Pentecost – a truth hidden in plain sight?

when the birthday party’s over, and the pastors are home wondering how the festivities came off, I say two or three of us come back here and pray over this mess of confetti, and ribbons, and paper lace.

Has a great religion of the Spirit been obstructed by a Christianity of the flesh?

If the way of grace and truth bestowed by God’s Anointed was meant for the whole world, why after nearly 2000 years does more than half the world still remain aloof from its blessing?

I sincerely doubt those who say that this harvest shortfall was preordained. The tardy consummation of the church’s mission cannot even any longer be covered by the Son’s teaching regarding slow-growth (mustard seed, drop of leaven, etc) – because it is the number outside the church that is slowly growing.

The failure of the church cannot be of God, but of men. If the cause of all spiritual advance realized so far is of Christ, it stands to reason that the frustration of this advance is due to human errors which hang too heavily over that human institution which was charged with bearing God’s truth to the world. Can I get a pastor to agree with me here? I doubt it.

Instead of equating the human doctrines of Christianity with truth and orthodoxy, maybe we should check to see whether they have not been admixed with enough human error to obscure the whole truth revealed in Christ.

Instead of acquiescing in the church’s well-meaning attempt to symbolize the truth of Christ by sacraments, ritual, and old liturgies, maybe we should ask whether living truth has not been more deeply hidden, to less effect, by these mysteries.

The causes for the church’s failure might lie too close for us to see, “hidden in plain sight.” A good example is Pentecost itself, which the church has been pleased to celebrate as her own rather exclusive birthday party. She teaches that the Holy Spirit itself was given to her as a birthday present – always explaining that it is her members (only) who receive this gift. People visiting Jerusalem that day from other parts of the world, she says, were instructed about the death, resurrection and eminent return of the Messiah, and told it would be their doom unless they received membership with them through repentance and baptism.

I do not reject the idea that the church would have been unborn or stillborn without the aid of Christ’s new Spirit, but I think this Spirit can be limited in its effectiveness by false teachings which are alleged to determine its availability.

How well are we really able to see the true meaning of the day when the church insists on carrying on so? Tonight, when the birthday party’s over, and the pastors are home wondering how the festivities came off, I say two or three of us come back here and pray over this mess of confetti, and ribbons, and paper lace. Because I think the gift given on this day by God’s Anointed was meant to be a universal opportunity of atonement that transcends Baptism and orthodoxy.

If I’m right, it is the church’s failure to understand Pentecost that has curtailed her own effectiveness and obstructed the Kingdom.

Spirit of Truth and spirit of error at Pentecost

Any good search engine will return thousands of hits for Simon Peter in return for the two words, impetuous apostle.  The same two words will fetch hundreds of Google Books titles dating back over 200 years which include a sketch of Simon Peter’s character along this line.  “Impetuous” is simply the epitome of this Apostle’s reputation, drawn from honest reflection on his behavior as recorded in the Gospels and Acts.

Not many, however, would judge impetuosity, given to headlong plunges, precipitous action, sudden resolves lacking in substantial reserve, as a trait in the character of a truth-seeker.  I think most of us would probably see it as more the spirit of error than the Spirit of Truth.

I think this fact about Peter’s temperament, and its opposition to the frame of mind required for entertaining new or greater truths, are evident at the first Christian Pentecost.  If Acts 2:14-41 preserves the true outline of his Pentecost sermon, I think we must admit that Peter on this auspicious day moves head-first into an error which embarrassed the church for more than a generation.

Peter Preaching at Pentecost - Masolino

By his quotations from Joel and David (Psalms), Peter proclaims “the great and manifest day” of impending doom for all who do not “call on the name of the Lord,” even Jesus of Nazareth, whom God  has raised, and who is now at God’s right hand until his enemies are made his footstool.  If this was Peter’s message, and it cut his listeners to the heart (2:37), we might assume that what led to the ‘conversion’ of about 3000 was a dread of impending retribution for shared guilt in the death of the Messiah.  Is this a gospel?

Not in my view.  Peter’s dire imagery – his fearsome but empty implications that the slain Messiah was to make an imminent return to judge the unrepentant Jews and the world – was in fact simply wrong.  Here we see perhaps the historical root of the error which Paul also taught – the Messiah’s imminent return.  Wrong and wrong.

[Note added May 16:  So much for the “spirit of error.”  I also am a firm believer that Pentecost marked the beginning of a real connection between the Spirit of Truth and the life of the church.  Suffice it for now to say I do not believe this Spirit to function in a manner which protects the church from all error whatsoever.]