Why I Am A Priest In A Pentecostal Church
Pentecost Is a Scriptural Word
Many people are surprised to find out that the word Pentecostal has deep roots in the Bible. In fact, the biblical term is Pentecost.
It’s found several places in the New Testament, most notably and most importantly in Acts 2:1 which reads, “And when the days of the Pentecost were accomplished ” If you think about it, to speak of a day of Pentecost makes it sound like a holiday, which is exactly what it was.
If you go back and read the Old Testament, you will discover that Pentecost was one of the Jewish feast days. Only they didn’t call it Pentecost. That’s the Greek name.
It is mentioned five places in the first five books—in Exodus 23, Exodus 24, Leviticus 16, Numbers 28 and Deuteronomy 16. It was the celebration of the beginning of the early weeks of harvest. In Palestine there were two harvests each year. The early harvest came during the months of May and June; the final harvest came in the Fall. Pentecost was the celebration of the beginning of the early wheat harvest which meant that Pentecost always fell sometime during the middle of the month of May or sometimes in early June.
There were several festivals, celebrations, or observances which took place before Pentecost. There was Passover. There was Unleavened Bread and there was the Feast of Firstfruits. The Feast of Firstfruits was the celebration of the beginning of the barley harvest. Here’s the way you figured out the date of Pentecost. According to the Old Testament, you would go to the day of the celebration of Firstfruits and beginning with that day, you would count off 50 days. The fiftieth day would be the Day of Pentecost. So Firstfruits is the beginning of the barley harvest and Pentecost the celebration of the beginning of the wheat harvest. Since it was always 50 days after Firstfruits, and since 50 days equals seven weeks, it always came a “week of weeks” later. Therefore they either called it the Feast of Harvest or the Feast of Weeks.
Further Facts About Pentecost
There are three things you need to know about Pentecost that will help you understand our text.
1. Pentecost was a pilgrim festival.
That meant that according to Jewish Law, all the adult Jewish men would come from wherever they were living to Jerusalem and personally be in attendance during this celebration.
2. Pentecost was a holiday.
No servile work was to be done. School was out. The shops were closed. It was party time.
3. There were certain celebrations and sacrifices and offerings which were prescribed in the Law for the day of Pentecost.
On Pentecost, the High Priest was to take two loaves of freshly baked wheat bread and offer them before the Lord. The wheat bread was made from the newly harvested wheat.
In short, Pentecost in the time of the Apostles was a great and grand harvest celebration. The streets of Jerusalem were clogged with thousands of pilgrims who had come from every point of the compass to celebrate the goodness of God and the bringing in of the wheat harvest.
“And when the days of the Pentecost were accomplished ”
It is with that background that we turn to Acts 2:1, which reads “And when the days of the Pentecost were accomplished ” Luke is telling us something crucial in the very words that he uses. He uses a Greek word which means “to completely fulfill.” When he wrote the text, he also arranged his articles in a certain way to stress a point. You could legitimately translate this verse this way, “Now when the day of Pentecost had been completely fulfilled,” In case you are wondering, all this background is not beside the point. Luke is telling us that this background IS the point.
He is telling us in Acts 2 that what happened on the Day of Pentecost is a fulfillment of what the Old Testament harvest celebration was all about. He’s telling us that the Old Testament celebration in connection with the wheat harvest was the foreshadowing of the events of Acts 2. Which means that Acts 2 is the most important chapter in the Book of Acts and that what happens here simply cannot be overestimated in terms of its importance for the church of Jesus Christ and for you and for me.
Will the True Pentecostals Please Stand Up?
I’m suggesting to you that there is a direct line backwards from this time in history to A. D. 33 and from Rome to Jerusalem. Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. In that sense what happened on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 is an unrepeatable event in exactly the same sense that your birthday is unrepeatable. But just as there is the resemblance, however faint, between the way you looked when you were born and the way you look now, there is a resemblance between the Church of today and the Church that was founded on the day of Pentecost.
I’m suggesting to you that the true Pentecostal Church is not necessarily the church with the name Pentecostal in its title. The true Pentecostal Church is the one which reflects the marks of the Church which was born that day. That’s why the lessons of Pentecost are lessons for us today.
What are the marks of a truly Pentecostal Church?
1. The truly Pentecostal Church is a united church.
“And when the days of the Pentecost were accomplished, they were all together in one place .” Acts 2:1. Luke actually uses a word which means to be of unanimous purpose. It was his favorite word to describe the early Church. It means to have your hearts and minds joined together. One translation says, “They were all together with one accord.” We’re being told that the first mark of the Pentecostal Church is unity—physical unity, spiritual unity, emotional unity and doctrinal unity. “With one accord” means they were all singing the same chord together. They were all hitting the same notes. They were all singing the same tune. It means that there were no private harmonies. No off-the-wall lyrics. It means that they were like one mighty chorus all together.
In case we miss it, he explains that unity in Acts 2:44-46:
"And all they that believed, were together, and had all things common. Their possessions and goods they sold, and divided them to all, according as every one had need. And continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they took their meat with gladness and simplicity of heart;"
This is a wonderful picture of what the early Church was like. They were together so much that they took their money and brought it together. They sold their possessions and brought the money and put it together. They took the things they owned and everybody had things jointly owned together. It’s an amazing picture. But did you notice what else they did? In the early Church the mark of their unity was that they ate together. They cooked their meals together. This is no small point. Eating together is one mark of a truly united Church. I grew up Baptist and sometimes we liked to joke that if you want to get a group out you have to have fired chicken. In other words, really want to get a crowd you have to have a meal or at least you have to have refreshments. Sometimes people grumble about it. But it’s not just a psychological fact that people like to eat together. It is also a biblical truth. Right here in the earliest days of the Church the Church ate together. Let me tell you what I believe. I believe that the Church that eats together will stay together, will play together, will pray together, will grow together in every sense of the word. “The breaking of bread,” is a Eucharistic phrase in St. Luke’s writings. For example, when St. Paul was in Troas in Acts 20:7, we read: “And on the first day of the week, when we were assembled to break bread …” Luke 24:30-31 records Cleopas and an unnamed disciple’s “eyes were opened” and they recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread.
Did you notice verse 47? It shows what happens when the people of God live this way. “And the Lord increased daily together such as should be saved. ” So great was the unity of the early church that when people looked at them they were amazed and astounded.
Back in my days at Bible College, we would go into Chicago to do ministry amongst the children. Chicago is like entering a new world. Chicago was an amazing place for a boy from a small town in Florida. There’s a lot of stuff they have that we don’t have in Florida. We would minister in all kinds of neighborhoods—Czechoslavakian, Ukrainian, Greek, Italian, Lithuanian, and every other nationality. Chicago is like a great melting pot of America. What a great picture of the Church of Jesus Christ as the great melting pot of humanity.
The Church should be a place where the rich and the poor can come together. A place where blacks and whites can come together. A place where rednecks and accountants can come together. A place where the left-brained people and the right-brained people can come together. A place where people who like classical music can get together with people who like pop music. A place where God’s children can come together and they don’t lose their uniqueness, they don’t lose their individuality, but they joined together in an atmosphere of love and acceptance of each others uniquenesses.
We are dealing here with something very crucial. Outside the doors of the Church is a world full of hurting people. They are living in a fractured, fragmented society. There are people who stay by themselves and to themselves and lock their doors seventeen different ways at night. If they can ever find a place where they can come in and be themselves and be loved and accepted, they will go there and stay forever.
The Church in the beginning grew because all kinds of people were together. It’s a wonderful secret of of growing the Church.
By the way, I think that the formation of the Christian Church is probably the fulfillment of the offering of those two loaves in the Old Testament. I think those loaves represented the two great divisions of the human race—Jew and Gentile. Now in the Church, they are brought together into one great union of body and soul and spirit. They are brought together into the family of God.
We’re not talking about small issues. We are talking about what the Church is all about. It’s to be a place where God’s people can come in and in spite of all their differences have a basic ground of unity. That’s the first mark of the Pentecostal church. All our plans will come to nothing if we are not all together in one accord. Without unity there is no Church at all, just another imitation.
2. The truly Pentecostal Church is a praying Church.
I want to go back to Acts 1 to pick up this point because it explains why the believers were united. Acts 1:14 says that “All these were persevering with one mind in prayer ” “these” being the apostles plus the women plus Mary the mother of Jesus. This prayer meeting comes after the Ascension and before the descent of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. They prayed together for 10 days, and it was out of that prayer meeting that unity came.
That, of course, is the point.
One of the most beautiful features of Catholic piety is that when praying, we pray with the communion of the saints. We must never think we are alone when we pray. It’s never simply an individualistic prayer. We pray with the Church. We pray with all the baptized. We pray not only with the baptized living, but also those who have already gone to God.
In my prayer time, especially in the morning, I am very conscious of praying in the communion of the saints. In praying the rosary I pray with Mary as well. She understands our confused prayers in such a beautiful way. Sometimes people who are not Catholic can misinterpret our devotion to the saints. We never worship the saints in competition with Jesus. Quite the contrary! We pray with them, as indeed we pray with people at Mass on Sunday. We should be praying in communion with each other. We should be praying in love for one another. Prayer and love just seem to go together. One leads to the other. And praying in communion together for mutual concerns brings a Church together like nothing else can. The glue of the Church is not its pastor, its program, its buildings or its doctrine. The real glue that makes a Church stick together is united prayer with the saints, with Mary and with the Apostles.
3. A truly Pentecostal Church is a Spirit-filled Church.
This is the part we all know about. The third mark of the Pentecostal Church is that it is spirit-filled. Acts 2:4 reads this way, “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak. ” Underline that phrase “they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.” I take it that the word “them” refers not just to the apostles but to all the disciples who were there. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.
Here is the secret of the power of the early Church: They were all filled with the Holy Ghost.
It is so easy to go to extremes on this. It’s easy to get all wrapped up in the outward signs; it’s also easy to ignore the Holy Ghost altogether. One extreme is to look at the spectacular phenomena that happened that day and to focus on them—on the sound of the mighty rushing wind, on the cloven tongues of fire, on the speaking in tongues. Some people even build an entire theology around those things. But it is just as dangerous on the other extreme. We may easily ignore the work of the Holy Ghost.
When we come to a passage like Acts 2 we have to make a clear distinction between the signs and the event itself. The sound and the fire and the tongues were signs which pointed to an event.
What was the event? The event was the descent of the Holy Spirit to the earth to enter the lives of men and women. That was the great event. The signs are God’s way of announcing the great event. The signs just point to the event. They are a means to an end, not the end itself. For that reason, I think it is very dangerous to build theology around the signs. There is a difference between that which is essential and that which is incidental.
We read this story about speaking in tongues and we say, WOW! We see tongues and that’s all we see. We think speaking in tongues is what this story is all about. But we need to distinguish between the event and signs of the event. Three unusual things happened on the day of Pentecost—the rushing wind, the tongues of fire and the actual speaking in tongues. Those three things are rightly seen as “signs.” They draw our attention to something else—the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. If you focus on the signs, you miss the whole point.
The coming of the Spirit was the important event.
It was the coming of the Holy Spirit that transformed Peter the denier, into Peter the preacher.
It was the coming of the Holy Spirit that took Thomas the doubter and turned him into Thomas the missionary.
It was the coming of God’s mighty Holy Spirit which took those cowardly, fearful, doubting, hesitant disciples and made them flaming evangelists for Jesus Christ who were ready to lay down their lives for him. It was that and nothing else.
It was the work of the Holy Spirit coming into ordinary men and women who transformed them from ordinary men and women into evangelists for Jesus Christ.
You say, Father Francis, are you sure that’s what this passage is talking about? Yes, I’m very sure. Just drop down with me to verse 16. Saint Peter is preaching now and he says, “But this is that which was spoken of by the prophet Joel: And it shall come to pass, in the last days, (saith the Lord,) I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh” What follows is the first great sermon of the Christian era. But the first phrase is the key. He’s saying, Don’t you understand? Joel is talking about this day. This is the day in which the Holy Spirit would come down and mighty things would happen. Peter is saying, “This is it, folks. This is the Age of the Spirit.”
We need this truth in the Church today. In the Old Testament, God sent rain from heaven to bring in the wheat harvest. In the New Testament God sends the Holy Spirit from heaven to bring in the human harvest of men and women into his kingdom. That’s the theological significance of Pentecost.
How do you get Spirit-filled Church?
It’s not as hard as you think. You fill them up with Spirit-filled Christians. And how do you get to be a Spirit-filled Christian? I don’t have any formulas to give you but I will tell you this. It’s been my experience that whenever you get really hungry for the genuine work of God in your life, you will be filled with his Spirit and God will empower you to serve him. Our greatest need is to know how great our need really is. Those people who have no need of the Holy Spirit will find a way to live without him. Those Christians who are really hungry for his reality will be filled.
So, I encourage you personally and I encourage the Church as a whole, not to just have a knowledge of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit but I encourage you to be determined to seek to know His infilling. It’s the third mark of the truly Pentecostal Church.
4. The truly Pentecostal Church is a Church that preaches a Gospel that saves the whole person not just a social gospel.
Notice how Luke puts the matter in verse 11. The disciples were proclaiming “the wonderful works of God.” And in verse 22 Peter begins to preach the first great gospel sermon, at the end of which 3000 people were saved. Here is the great question:
What happens in your life when the Holy Spirit takes control?
How will you know you are truly Spirit-filled? Will you speak in tongues? Will you be healed? What will happen? The New Testament suggests a number of answers to that question. But one answer stands out above all the rest. It is the great evidence that you have truly been filled with the Holy Spirit.
When you are truly filled with the Spirit, you will have boldness to share the gospel of the lfe, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Look at Acts 4:31. “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” That’s a pattern you find repeated throughout the book of Acts. As the believers are filled with the Spirit, they begin to share Christ openly. It happens in Acts 2, in Acts 4, it happens to Stephen in Acts 6, and to Paul in Acts 13.
Let me state it very clearly: When the Holy Spirit fills your life, he also opens your mouth!
Sometimes we get it all backwards. We talk as if the filling of the Holy Spirit is primarily to help us feel better about ourselves. And we pray to be filled so that we will live more obediently or walk with God more closely. Those things are noble and good, but they are by-products of the Spirit-filled life. God fills you with the Holy Spirit so that you will open your mouth and say a good word for him! The Holy Spirit gives holy boldness so that God’s holy people will take the holy Word of God and speak it boldly to an unholy generation.
The Holy Spirit is given to the Church to empower it to preach the gospel. A truly Pentecostal Church is not one that majors on speaking in tongues. That’s a side issue. A truly Pentecostal Church is one that majors on preaching the gospel. That’s what the believers did in Acts 2.
5. The Pentecostal Church is a harvesting Church.
Look with me at Acts 2:9-11.They tell us who showed up in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. “Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, Egypt, and the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews also, and proselytes, Cretes, and Arabians: we have heard them speak in our own tongues the wonderful works of God” Luke makes a circular list starting from the east and going north, then west, then southwest, then southeast. He is trying to show us that on the Day of Pentecost people were in Jerusalem from everywhere. Why? Because it was a pilgrim feast. Jewish men came from everywhere.
What happened in Acts 2 was not a coincidence. It happened on the Day of Pentecost for a purpose. What happened on the Day of Pentecost? We read in verse 41, “They therefore that received his word, were baptized; and there were added in that day about three thousand souls. ” On the birthday of the Church, on the day the Church was formed, 3000 people were added to the Church.
Who were the first missionaries in the Christian Church? They were those people I just talked about a second ago. Those Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, Egypt, and the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews also, and proselytes, Cretes, and Arabians: those men who had come to Jerusalem for Pentecost. They were the ones who heard the preaching of the gospel by Peter. They were the 3000 who got saved. After they got saved, they went back to Crete, Arabia, Mesopotamia, Rome, and all points of the compass, and through them the seeds of Pentecost were sewn all over the Roman Empire so that within one generation the early Church had evangelized the whole Roman Empire.
This is not a coincidence. The Church was born in a worldwide harvest. But it wasn’t a harvest of wheat. What started on the day of Pentecost was a worldwide harvest of people. Those brand-new believers were lay missionaries and as they went back to their home countries, they spread the good news of Jesus Christ.
If you look at Church history, that’s exactly what happened. Within one generation, the Church exploded throughout the Roman Empire. The seed from Pentecost was sown in thousands of cities, towns and villages as men and women moved from place to place.
It all fits perfectly. Pentecost was originally a harvest festival. It was the beginning of the harvest of grain.
It is no coincidence that the Church was born on Pentecost—in the midst of a worldwide harvest.
That’s what it means to be a truly Pentecostal Church. And that is what it means to be the Catholic Church. We are to be united, praying, Spirit-filled, gospel preaching and harvesting everywhere we go. May God help us, after 2000 years, to finally become like the Church as it was in the beginning.
All over the world, the harvest is plenteous and the fields are ripe.
And seeing the multitudes, he had compassion on them: because they were distressed, and lying like sheep that have no shepherd. Then he saith to his disciples, The harvest indeed is great, but the labourers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth labourers into his harvest. (Matthew 9:36-38)