Happy birthday Church!

Last Sunday was Pentecost Sunday.  In the Jewish calendar there were three important national celebrations that required attendance at the Temple. Passover was a memorial to God's leading Israel out of Egypt and out of slavery. Fifty days later, Pentecost was a celebration of the buds that would soon burst and reveal God's increase. The third was Tabernacles, a celebration of the conclusion of harvest.

The Pentecost recorded in Acts chapter 2 was associated with the empowering of the followers for Jesus by what we now call 'baptism in the Holy Spirit'. Pentecost in Acts chapter 2 marks the birth of the Christian church.

What is the meaning of Pentecost for the contemporary church? The first Pentecost marked the budding of the Christian church that would grow to become the largest religion on earth and the greatest contributor to the development of civil society in the whole of human history.

The first evidence of the New Testament harvest was Peter's powerful sermon recorded in Acts 2:14-39. The man who had denied Jesus three times and lost his confidence after the crucifixion suddenly became a speaker with great persuasive authority. 

The second evidence was 'about three thousand souls' who were saved (Acts 2:41). This was surely the beginning of the fulfilment of God's promise to Abram (later Abraham), '(C)ount the stars if you are able to number them... So shall your descendants be' (Gen 15:5). Christians (Gentiles) are, indeed, descendants of Abraham (see Gal 3:29) and are counted in that number.

The Bible actually identifies three baptisms. First, there is baptism into the body of Christ when we receive salvation by faith in the finished work of Jesus (1 Cor 12:13). Second, there is baptism in water, which is an act 'advertising' that the Christian has died to self, is crucified with Christ, and is a new creation in Him (Acts 2:38-41). Third, there is baptism in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4) by which the Christian receives empowerment to fulfil destiny.

It is important to understand that only baptism into the body of Christ is necessary for salvation. There is no biblical evidence that supports the idea that baptism in water and/or baptism in the Holy Spirit are necessary for salvation, but they are both encouraged in Pentecostal movements like Australian Christian Churches (ACC), the parent body of IgniteLife Church.

Two controversies surround Pentecost. One is whether or not baptism in the Holy Spirit is for today and the other is whether or not speaking in tongues is initial evidence of baptism in the Holy spirit.

Regarding the first,  the church depicted in the book of Acts is not intended to be the detailed blueprint for the church today because society is organised very differently compared to 2,000 years ago. Nevertheless, there is no evidence to suggest that the empowering of the Holy Spirit was available only for the early church. The early church was not a detailed blueprint, but it did establish a pattern for the contemporary church as Christians, empowered and emboldened by the Holy Spirit, literally changed the world. Baptism in the Holy Spirit is for the church today!

The second controversy is whether or not speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit. Pentecostal movements in Australia vary on this, but Assemblies of God (AOG) worldwide, including ACC (AOG in Australia) avows that it is. C3 and INC (formerly COC) are not as adamant.

Tongues may involve speaking in a language unknown to the speaker, but known the the hearers as was the case at the first Pentecost after after the resurrection of Jesus. Tongues may also be a 'prayer language' known only to God (e.g. 1 Cor 13:1; 14:1-28).

If you attend an ACC church and do not agree with the official position, you are not likely to be shunned. At IgniteLife Church Gold Coast, we invite our people to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit and to speak in tongues, but we do not 'put you to the test'. We simply want to see people accept the invitation to be empowered to live the Christian life to the fullest.

Our purpose is, 'To position you so that God can "ignite your  life by the power of the Holy Spirit"'.

Questions for discussion

1. Read the article at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2000/march6/32.84.html. In what ways are the article and this blog similar and different.

2. Ask some of your friends to share their experience with baptism in the Holy Spirit. What is common in those experiences.

3. In what way or ways do you think baptism in the Holy Spirit empowers a Christian? Hint: Read Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-5, 8; 2:1-4; 8:15-19; 11:14-17; 19:1-7.

Rod St Hill