While Christmas is celebrated as the birth of Christ, Pentecost is celebrated as the birth of the church. Early in my ministry, I was introduced to the writings of Lyle Schaller, a pastor and prolific writer on church systems and growth. Among the many lessons I learned through his works was the key fact that the church has a birthday, too, because if it is born, it will also die. Dying can be a blessing, too, because it is in death where we can truly find life!
Schaller points to the fact that the church is in a perpetual cycle of life, death, and resurrection. Sometimes this happens all in one location, and sometimes this happens in the diaspora, but regardless of what happens within a congregation, the church will always be reborn. I see us in the resurrection time in our life cycle, standing on the threshold of rebirth. Our great question that is before us is whether or not we can translate the Bible into the contemporary context and language that is relevant to our local community.
It is true that churches who cease to exist are ones that refuse to be reborn, holding fast to ways which are no longer relevant or translatable to their communities. This is one of those biblical teachings we have lost in the story of the Pentecost. One of the most important things that happens when the disciples start speaking in tongues is that everyone is able to hear the story in a way they can understand. This is interesting, because it suggests that not only do they hear the story in a language they know, but it is presented in a way that they can relate to.
As congregations transition from dealing with their own self-motivations and allow a healthy death to occur, by that very action they are handing the work of the church back to the only one who can really make a difference, that being the Holy Spirit.
It reminds me of the passage from Romans chapter 8 verses 5-6:
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
A church focused on the spirit is infinitely more connected to God and its mission than those who use the standards of this world. We have to set the example as a congregation and take the necessary leaps of faith. This is, after all, why we are all here, celebrating life as an expression of God. We must labor and continually ask if the order established by the church is a catalyst for the spiritual growth in faith that brings an understanding of hope and salvation, or has it become a rigid law and thus a hindrance boxing in the Holy Spirit. Our job as the church is to be a faithful expression of God deeply rooted in the spirit which has been given as a gift to us. We are called to lift up and not tear down, and we are called to live in the celebration of the Holy Spirit every day!
If there is one thing that we can learn from Pentecost, it is that God still has great plans for this place and there is a powerful seed for the spirit here!
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen