Pentecost is a forgotten holiday, when even Pentecostals celebrate Valentine’s day more than they celebrate Pentecost, it is obvious that we have a problem. We have to celebrate Pentecost – not by starting some strange tradition of dressing trees with small tongues of fire and eating dove-formed chocolate – but by intensively praying for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost, as it is described in Acts chapter 2, is repeatable, and that is fantastic news for the sleeping church in the Western world.
When the Holy Spirit was poured out in Acts 2 there was indeed an explosion of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit – tongues, healing, prophecy etc. – but also of the sanctifying fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace etc. These fruits are not only nice feelings, they lead to a radical lifestyle. On Pentecost, the first Christians had everything in common; they put economic equalization into practice, while they were performing signs and wonders. The charismatic gifts were combined with poverty reduction.
Charismatic Poverty Reduction
In 2010, a 20 year-old woman named Teresa Jebiwot participated in a revival meeting in Kisumu, southern Kenya. She was born without a cornea, which made her totally blind, not knowing if it was day or night unless someone told her. On the revival meeting however, she got completely healed when the prophet David Owour prayed for her, and she started to see perfectly. This was verified by an eye specialist, Dr. Agnes Maiyo, at the Iten District Hospial. More information about the healing can be found here.
I find this very beautiful; it is not easy to be blind in such a poor country as Kenya, but the wonderworking power of God did what no aid organisation can do. Teresa’s healing is a contemporary parallel to Bartimaeus’ healing in Mark 10:46-52. He was a blind beggar, and when Jesus healed him, three things happened: Firstly, people realized that God exist. Secondly, Bartimaeus could see God’s beautiful creation. Thirdly, he never had to beg again. Jesus used a miracle to set him free from poverty. Signs and wonders was combined with social justice.
This was essential in His ministry. In Matthew 11 we read that some men came to Him and said: “John the Baptist asks: Are you the one who is to come [that is, to save us and give us eternal life], or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (vv. 4-5). The signs that show that Jesus is the Messiah are miracles and bringing good news to the poor. When He started His ministry He went according to Luke 4 into a synagogue, put up a scroll with the prophecies of Isaiah and started to quote chapter 61 and apply the prophecy on Himself: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (vv. 18-19).
A Divided Church
The church has often divided itself into different groups that ignore important aspects of the Gospel. Some Christians talk a lot about the anointing of the Holy Spirit and giving sight to the blind while they preach good news to the rich rather than the poor and are not setting the oppressed free. In the end their love will turn cold, like the church inCorinth, so that their longing for spiritual gifts will turn into nothing more than a quest for a spectacular show. In the other corner we have Christians that work hard for peace, justice and a green environment while they do not seek the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and although some of them believe that God, theoretically, can perform miracles, they do not see any and they are not doing anything to make that happen. When they never see the power of God in their lives, their faith will eventually become cold and they will not spend so much time in prayer, Bible reading and evangelism.
I know a lot about both of these groups and what I have noticed is that they have the same favourite Bible chapter – but they read it differently – namely Acts 2. Either you read about miracles, or about having everything in common. And it is wonderful that we pray and work for the same charismatic intensity than that of Pentecost, but if we do not have everything in common, we only resurrect half of Pentecost. But we are to resurrect all of Pentecost.
Everything in Common
So let us read Acts 2 then! The context is that the Holy Spirit has smashed down like a nuclear bomb so that 120 disciples speak in a multitude of languages which raises people’s attention so that Peter can preach a powerful sermon that exhorts them to repent from their sins and be baptized in the Name of the Lord Jesus which 3000 of them do so that the first church is born and is described in the following manner:
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (vv. 42-47)
When you realize that your own church is not as fantastic as the first church you can react in two different ways: either you immediately start to pray and act for making your church more Biblical, or you start to argue that the first church was some kind of abnormal perversion, an extreme exception of how a church should look like. This applies especially to the sharing of goods. Some way or another people argue that the reason why Luke is describing the sharing of goods in detail in Acts 2 and again, even more detailed, in Acts 4, is not with the purpose that other churches should do the same thing, but that people shall understand that the apostles, who had received personal teaching from Jesus Himself and who just had been baptized in the Holy Spirit, did something that Jesus and the Holy Spirit didn’t want most of the churches to do. People claim thatJerusalemwas the only church which had everything in common.
We know that this is not the case. Didaché, a church order written about90 A.D., says: “Share everything with your brother. Do not say, ‘It is private property.’ If you share what is everlasting, you should be that much more willing to share things which do not last.” (Did. 4:8). Justin Martyr (100-165) wrote: “We who once took most pleasure in the means of increasing our wealth and property now bring what we have into a common fund and share with everyone in need.” (1st Apology 14). Tertullian (160-225) wrote: “We who share one mind and soul obviously have no misgivings about community in property.” (Apology, 39). And the pagan author Lucian (2nd century) wrote: “Christians despise all possessions and share them mutually.” (Peregrinus 13).
The early church shared their property because in those days, you did not only read what Jesus said, you obeyed Him as well. In Luke 12:33 He said that His disciples are to sell what they have and give to the poor, then they will receive a treasure in Heaven. Many Western Christians do not want that treasure; they want to keep their treasure here on earth instead. Jesus says to them in Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not gather treasures on earth… gather your treasures in heaven… where your treasure is, your heart will be also.” People say: “It is OK that I have a lot of money and property, because I do not value them higher than God, I am not a slave to my wealth. I can keep my money because my heart is with God.” This argument does not work by two reasons: firstly, where your treasure is your heart will be also, you cannot have treasures on earth while having your heart in Heaven. Secondly, no matter how you feel for your money you have to help the poor. Jesus never said “sell what you have” without adding “and give the money to the poor”. 16 000 children die each day of hunger. We know about the misery of the poor, we know that organisations like Doctors without borders and Unicef save lives, and we have resources to give. If we still do not help the poor, we sin, according to Deutoronomy 15:9.
This is radical teaching, because the Bible is a radical book, inspired by a radical God who knows the situation of the poor and who knows the names of the 16 000 children that will die today. James 5 says that the cries of the poor has reached the ears of the Lord Almighty, so “listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.” (v. 1). Suddenly you realize that you are a sinner, and that everyone are sinners. But Jesus died for all of our sins; He loves us and forgives us when we repent from our wicked deeds. He reconciles us with God and gives us the Holy Spirit who fills us with the love of God for all men. And when you really love the poor you cannot stand keeping riches for yourself.
That was what happened on Pentecost. The first Christians “were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” (Acts 4:32). They had a unity of love, and true unity does not only express itself in ecumenical counsels but in the sharing of goods. And this is to be united with the charismatic dimension; there is no opposition between these. When the Holy Spirit comes, He does not only wants us to prophecy and perform miracles – He wants us to resurrect all of Pentecost. Amen.