This weekend the Church celebrates Pentecost—or at least it's supposed to. But to many, even in the Church, Pentecost has just become a word on the calendar, representing an isolated incident in the Bible, with little application to our lives.
To refocus our attention on what Pentecost means, I suggest Colin Duriez's new book, AD 33: The Year That Changed the World. Duriez takes on the ambitious task of examining what this one momentous year meant to various people and groups around the world. The resulting book sheds light not just on the way things happened during the founding of the Church, but on what those things mean today.
And one of the events he highlights is the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, when "something mysterious and yet real entered the spectacle of world history." In that one startling, life-changing event, we see the transformation not just of individuals, but of the Church.
Duriez sums up some of the leading characteristics of the young Church in "the aftermath of the Pentecost": "It becomes confessional, immersing itself in the narrative and doctrinal teaching of the Twelve. It is voluntarily communitarian . . . directed to social welfare and care."
In short, the presence of the Holy Spirit taught believers to dedicate themselves fully to Christ's two greatest commands: loving God and loving their neighbor.
It was this presence and these guidelines that kept the Church together through some of the growing pains described in Acts, such as the lies of Ananias and Sapphira, or the complaints of one group that their needy were being ignored.
Such deceptions and squabbles can tear even the closest group apart. The fact that this did not happen and that, on the contrary, the Church dealt effectively with these cases and continued to grow, is a clear testimony to the working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christ's followers.
Little wonder that, as Duriez puts it, "[the Church's] spontaneous primitive form, in the days, weeks and months after Pentecost, was to be seen in later centuries by reforming and revivalist movements in the church as an ideal to be restored."
What sometimes discourages us, though, is how much the world has changed, and how much the Church has grown, since AD 33. So much of what worked then for a small group, with one set of leaders, sharing everything in common, seems no longer feasible for Christians today.
That's why Duriez calls us not to focus on the specifics of the early Church's situation, but on the principles that apply to all believers, in all places, and at all times. "It is worth noting," he writes, "that the communitarianism of the early church is not ideological; that is, property is not the integrating factor. Rather the importance of property is relative in relation to the law of love, based on Jesus' famous command to his disciples."
If you'd like a refresher course on how the Church began, what it was then, and what it still can be, pick up AD 33. It's a fascinating trip back to the beginning and a reminder of how the guidance and principles present at the beginning are still present and powerful today.
From BreakPoint®, May 25, 2007, Copyright 2007, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship Ministries