Do contemporary expressions of Pentecostalism share the same focus as those on the Day of Pentecost? As the primary reference point for all major forms of Pentecostalism, do our gatherings reflect the same emphasis of those who experienced the first outpouring of the Spirit in Acts, the account we claim to follow and seek to emulate?
Since becoming part of the Pentecostal movement and the larger Charismatic renewal, I have many times witnessed what were claimed to be ‘moves of the Spirit.’ They included episodes which lasted for shorter periods of time, such as a church service, to more well-known and extended revival services, i.e., denominational camp meetings, and renewal meetings, such as those at the Airport Christian Fellowship in Toronto. During these gatherings, in all of the variety they represent, I have witnessed the good, the bad, and yes, even the ugly. I have seen people healed of various, and often, serious medical conditions, which is good, to all sorts of odd and sometimes strange behaviors such as barking, shaking and being ‘slain in the Spirit’ in mass, which proved to be not so good (in my opinion, at least). In all of these contexts and situations, however, one thing stood out as the primary common denominator – people claimed these experiences evidenced the Holy Spirit’s presence and activity. That is, they attributed every one of those events, even the most bizarre, directly to the Spirit’s work.
And so, I ask us again, does the contemporary Pentecostal, Charismatic and Third Wave movements reflect the New Testament focus of the Holy Spirit? Do our gatherings share the same focus the Spirit did in the New Testament accounts?
New Testament Overview
Acts 2 recounts the events surrounding the Day of Pentecost shortly after Jesus’ ascension. One hundred and twenty believers, in obedience to his exhortation, remained in Jerusalem to receive ‘the gift my Father promised.’ As they spent time together, they suddenly heard a sound like the blowing of a mighty wind that filled the entire house. All of them were immediately filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Earlier in the Acts record, Jesus, in prophetic fashion, told his disciples that in the near future they would ‘receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you,’ with the result that they would ‘be my witnesses.’ A quick and brief analysis of the text indicates clearly the primary purpose of the Spirit’s future outpouring – to enable them to be effective witnesses to the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Chapters 14-16 in John’s Gospel account contain many important aspects of Jesus’ teaching. An obvious and recurring theme is the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Three passages in particular bear special significance. First, ‘But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.’ Second, ‘When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.’ Third, ‘But when he, the Spirit of Truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.’
These texts tell us much about the Holy Spirit, particularly His work in the church and world. With plain language and with logical consistency, Jesus stated the Spirit would remind the disciples of his words and teachings. Furthermore, the ‘Spirit of truth’ would himself guide people into the truth. How? By bringing glory to Jesus by taking from what is his and making it known to others. The Spirit’s primary function was not to draw attention to himself, but always to Jesus Christ.
What Does This Mean for Us?
The emphasis and focus on the Day of Pentecost was not the Spirit, per se, but Christ. He was the power that placed the spotlight on Jesus, so that those who claimed to be Christ-followers were enabled to proclaim and reflect him in the world. The finite (people) were equipped to point to and proclaim the infinite (God), through the enablement of the Spirit. Peter’s sermon immediately following the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost had one point – Jesus Christ. And, the sermons and miracles that followed were demonstrations of the Spirit’s witness to Christ.
The Greek for ‘signs’ (sémeion) simply meant ‘pointer.’ However, every sign produced by the Spirit pointed not to himself, but to the person and redemptive mission of Jesus and the in-breaking of his kingdom on earth. As a result, Spirit baptism, as well as all of the Spirit signs that followed, were not incidents of self-proclamation, but bridges that would point and lead people to Jesus.
As people of the Spirit – people who strive to have and maintain a Spirit-filled life and church – is our emphasis the same? Do the things we claim to be ‘Spirit encounters’ point people towards the goal – Jesus? Do contemporary expressions of Pentecostalism maintain the same emphasis? Is Jesus at the center of our witness? Or, do we focus on the Spirit’s manifestations as stand alone actions, unattached to anything else?
People of the Spirit point to Jesus. Period.
Throughout the Acts account, Jesus took center stage. While the book has been more accurately dubbed ‘The Acts of the Holy Spirit,’ the Spirit’s emphasis throughout was to bring glory to Jesus Christ, the redeemer and reconciler of all things.
What sign should we look for to authenticate whether or not a gathering or experience is the Spirit’s work?
It is simple –
Every authentic move of the Spirit will always have as its primary focus the person of Jesus Christ.
The Spirit will always shine the spotlight upon Jesus – his life, death, resurrection and ascension. As the Spirit of truth communicates the truth of Jesus Christ, who himself is the truth, his activity will be made known to us precisely because Jesus has taken center stage.
Every claim of the Spirit’s work should be placed against this standard and discerned as legitimate by its singular focus on Christ.
Jesus is the center of the Spirit’s activity – always has been and always will be. And, anything that seeks to draw our attention away from him should be viewed with deep suspicion.
Shine, Jesus, shine!