Pentecost Sunday, May 19, marks the birth of the Christian church. It has nothing to do with denominationalism, a man-made invention catering to theological differences and quirks. Whatever happened in a certain Upper Room in Jerusalem (Acts 1-2), somewhere around 30 A.D., was a game changer, whether or not one sees it as a Godly-intervention.
Those 1st century Christians ran into the streets speaking languages they had not learned. The people who understood them listened.
What does it have to do with us - believers and non-believers - in 2013? Both groups can become more astute readers, writers, commentators, and world citizens by dispelling ignorance of the roots of Christianity, a religion once so vibrant it was accused of “turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).
The reason Islam and other Eastern religions are rapidly growing in America is that they make no apologies for influencing every area of their followers’ lives. Too many Christians find it expedient to compartmentalize their beliefs, a personal separation of church and state, which, like the national declaration, leads only to arguing and impotence.
Christianity began with a bang and will not go out with a whimper. The people waited in Jerusalem until power with knowledge touched their tongues and gave them something worthwhile to say. Today there are approximately 41,000 divisions of Christians, many alienated from the others because they are at odds over what “speaking in tongues” means rather than focusing on what it is supposed to accomplish — witnessing to truth.
Political posturing, enforced ignorance of the masses, and effectual persecution of Christian zealots stripped the church of credibility during the Dark Ages (500-1500 A.D.). By the time the German monk Martin Luther challenged the status quo in 1517, salvation had become a trade commodity. The “born again by grace” experience was for sale to the highest bidder. The Protestant Reformation at least reestablished the basics of Christ’s teachings.
In the 1800s, teachers like John Wesley reminded the church that if what they preached was real, it ought to show. In the 1900s many Christians turned their revived Pentecost Sunday experience into a show, so that now in the 21st century the words “Pentecost” and “Pentecostal” evoke weird associations instead of powerful witness.
We live in a culture that grabs words and converts them to meet the needs of its own moral failures. What the Apostle Paul meant by “grace” is not defined by fallen preachers who hog the public eye as if God’s unmerited favor exempts them from responsibility. Neither is grace to be used as a trump card by politicians like John Edwards and Mark Sanford who rob the public coffers and pervert the long-established tradition of public servant.
Saturday Night Live’s “never mind” cannot be used as a continuing do-over in the real world. The majority of Americans still claim to be Christians. Christians possess all the tools its founder died to give us. If we do not use them, we can only blame ourselves for the apathetic yawns of the public, the media, and even the church membership.
Pentecost Sunday is a reminder that there is a language that makes its point.
Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If we seek simple truth, we can find it together—side-by-side.