Getting Pentecost on the Calendar
Getting Pentecost on the Calendar
Pastor Gregg Strawbridge
When I was five years old my best friend was Deborah. She was my age and visited her grandmother on weekends. Mrs. McCallister lived next to us. I still remember an aroma of strangeness about Deborah’s family. They had peculiar religious views as Jehovah’s Witnesses. At the time, this didn’t come up much in our playing. But I did learn from her that there was no Santa Clause. The JW’s are down on Christmas celebrations and Christian holidays, generally. This was my first encounter with Christmas-haters and calendar-kickers.
Should Trinitarian Christians who have a high view of Scripture celebrate Christian holidays? We could get at this with another question, Do we have a Christian “faith” or a Christian “life”? If being a Christian is a mere “faith,” or set of beliefs, then one could affirm them in a sort of timeless void. We could pretend to hold a Christian philosophy in an a-temporal way. Yet, if being a believer is a “life” - life takes time. Life is inclusive of beliefs and values, but often mere beliefs don’t fill all of life. It is sort of like affirming that you are a father, but never playing with your children or affirming the belief that you are a wife, but never spending time with your husband.
In Deuteronomy 6, that most well-known of education proof-texts, we also must be aware of time in our training. “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” In fact, the most repeated word in these verses is a time word — when. So do we have a Christian view of time or is our calendar no better than a communist statism - with independence day, labor day, memorial day, veterans day, and presidents day. Do we know “IRS day” (April 15) better than Ascension or Easter or Pentecost. Do dates set by our tax-men loom larger than Jesus ascending to the right hand of God the Father? Probably so. This is an indication that we are toddlers in Christian thinking — with stinky diapers, no doubt.
Part of the problem is that most of us who have grown up in evangelical circles try so hard to avoid being Catholic with a big “C” that we never get around to being Biblical with a big “B.” We are really just Traditional with a big “T.” That is the root of our practice. It just so happens that our traditions are not shaped by a full Christian world and life view. We have a Protestant heritage which is mixed on the question of the calendar. In the Reformation, well meaning reformers in the Puritan movement sought to purge the church of excessive ceremony.
This came through to most of our traditional American protestant denominations (excepting Episcopal and Lutheran). For example, in the early 18th century, a great Princeton Presbyterian, Samuel Miller argued, “We believe that the Scriptures not only do not warrant the observance of such days, but that they positively discountenance it.” He goes on to argue that Gal. 4:8 and Col. 2 refute the practice of recognizing any holy days, except the Lord’s Day. These texts address the Judaizers ceremonial requirements. Even in a recent publication, a pastor warned, “churches may not mandate or require such [annual observances] without destroying liberty of conscience.”
What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If these texts and principles are refute Christian calendar days like Christmas, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost, then they refute the Lord’s Day (Sunday - the Christian Sabbath) just as much. In fact Col. 2:16 expressly repudiates the Sabbath! But the basis for annual memorials of redemptive events in Christ is drawn from the very same principles as the Sunday-Sabbath: tradition of the early church, theological principle, and a very thin example (Acts 20:7).
On the other hand, if the apostle Paul is a good example, note how he formed even missionary travels around Pentecost – “Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost” (Acts 20:16). He even marked time with it saying to the Corinthians that he would “tarry in Ephesus until Pentecost” (1 Cor. 16:17).
But there is even a deeper Biblical basis. A careful and literal reading of Genesis 1:14-15 will make clear that some seasonal calendar was hardwired into creation. “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years.” The Hebrew word mo‘ed [seasons] means religious festivals and feasts. It is used that way over 200 times in Scripture. After the Exodus, the Lord gave his people a festival calendar synchronized with the seasons of the year (Lev. 23). We know that Jesus’ honored His parents who “went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover...according to the custom of the feast” (Luke 2:41). Jesus not only celebrated the original feast days in the Mosaic calendar— but he also participated in the feast of Dedication (Hebrew word, “Hanukah”) instituted in 164 B.C. by Judeas Maccabeaus who cleansed the temple (John 10:22). And He celebrated the feast of Purim instituted in Esther’s day (Est. 9:22) (see John 5).
Remember the calendar has political and world-shaping significance. Think of the French Revolution - what did they do (beyond thrusting upon us the devilish Metric System) - they tried to undo the Seven Day Christian Calendar. The Bolshevik Revolution forming the USSR required atheistic, political holidays. Contrary to those who object, the church calendar including the highlights of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost does not introduce new ceremonies or rituals; rather, it organizes and directs our Scripture readings, prayers, hymns, and sermons according to the life of Christ. It gives us celebrations of redemptive, and not just nationalistic, significance. By this we enjoy a redemptive calendar which marks time under the Lordship of Christ. Jesus is Lord of Time!
Protestants - Lutherans and Anglicans - never abandoned the Christian timing of time in the calendar and neither did the continental Reformed, though it was less robust. I recently received a book on the history of the German Reformed church in our area (Lancaster) and noted that in keeping with the Continental Reformed churches, they celebrated the ‘five evangelical feast days': Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost. The Reformed churches of Berne, Strasbourg, and Zurich celebrated the five evangelical feasts. The Second Helvetic Confession chapter 24, says, “Moreover, if in Christian liberty the churches religiously celebrate the memory of the Lord's nativity, circumcision, passion, resurrection, and of his ascension into heaven, and the sending of the Holy Spirit upon his disciples, we approve of it highly.”
What is the Biblical basis for Pentecost? The Feast of Weeks in Exodus 34:22 was 50 days after Passover [“Pente”50]. It is also called the "first fruits" in Numbers 28:26. Pentecost became the celebrated anniversary of the giving of the Law by God to Moses at Mt. Sinai. What faithful Jews recognized as the anniversary of the giving of the Law on two tablets of stone at Mt. Sinai is the very day that God chose to pour out his Holy Spirit, turning sinful hearts of stone into living hearts of flesh (Ez. 36:26). From the flood to Babel the division of peoples was made, separating language and religious culture. But from Pentecost to the consummation of the kingdom, the gospel advances with the power to undo the confusion of the nations by the Spirit's power through the one-Word, gospel.
Moses saw the glory of the Holy Spirit in the earthly temple, how much more is God's glory evident in the temple made without hands of "living stones." At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit indwelt the new temple, the church of the living God, and his glory is evident. Just as the Shekinah glory came down in the original temple, so now the Shekinah was poured out by our enthroned King at Pentecost. Pentecost is something to celebrate!
For use with your children. This is an acrostic to capture the fullness of the Biblical idea. What does Pentecost mean? PENTECOST
P - Power of the Holy Spirit in the Church, empowering 120 disciples to change the world (Acts 2:1).
E - Edification of the Body of Christ being built up (Eph. 4).
N - Nations reached by the gospel and made worshipers of Jesus (Acts 2:9, Rev. 5:9).
T - Temple of God is Jesus body, the true and final temple (1 Pet. 2:5, Rev. 21:3).
E - Evidences or Fruit of the Spirit shows the presence of Christ in our lives (Gal. 5:22-23).
C - Charity as the greatest gift and mark of being in Christ, a fruit of the Spirit (1 Cor. 13).
O - One Body bringing together Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:16).
S - Spiritual gifts given to the church for the work of ministry (1 Cor. 12).
T - Tongues or languages to speak the Word and reach the nations and tongues of fire as in the wilderness (Acts 2:4).