Born to be Alive: The People Respond

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When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

With this and many other words he warned them and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”  Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.[1]

Peter has finished his preaching it was now time for the people to make their response.  This they did three thousand saved and baptized is a good response for any sermon.

By virtue of this and his other discourses, Peter is the first Pentecostal preacher, and this is the first Pentecostal sermon ever given.  In fact, this is the Pentecostal sermon, as it was given on the Pentecost when the Holy Spirit first fell.  Yet, looking at our modern Pentecostal (and Charismatic) preaching, it is odd in many ways.  It is very short to begin with, five or ten minutes at the very most.  There was no altar call, yet literally thousands came for repentance and baptism there was not even an offering here, although the Jerusalem church was to become very successful in its stewardship program.  Seeing these kinds of differences, we need to ask ourselves a basic question: What is real Pentecostal preaching?

Pentecostal Preaching

As is the case with worship, there are a lot of well defined ideas afloat about what a true Pentecostal preacher is all about.  According to some, Pentecostal preachers must look the part they must have on certain clothes and style their hair a certain way.  Their voice must take on a wholly new complexion when they mount the pulpit.  They must hold the Bible in a certain way, and know when to use it — both in the sermon and physically — according to well established practice.  If they get happy or run the aisles when they preach, all the better.  If they have all of these qualities in abundance, they are expected to go on for at least an hour and a half.

While great preachers do some or all of these things, by themselves these activities make neither a real Pentecostal preacher nor a real Pentecostal sermon.  As is the case with worship, this can only be done through the move of the Holy Spirit, and attempting to pump the Spirit up with purely human methods will not get the job done.

This book is a layman’s look at Acts 2, although up until now most of it does not really have much of a particularly layman’s emphasis.  What the Holy Spirit poured out on Pentecost was for all flesh, clerical and lay alike.  But this is one point where this layman, having heard and seen many Pentecostal and Charismatic sermons and preachers, would like to speak from the pew on what a person needs to be a real Pentecostal preacher.

The qualifications for overseers and pastors is well laid out in the New Testament Paul left neither Timothy nor Titus nor the church hanging on this issue.  But Pentecostal and Charismatic preachers, operating in the spiritual realm that they do, need to have two qualities from God to be where they are.  These are the call and the anointing.

Pentecostal preachers should be first and foremost called by God to do what they do.  Pentecostal preachers should know when they were called and under what circumstances they were called.  This experience be of such a nature that those who must decide whether or not they be given their license to preach must believe and be convinced this calling is real.  And this calling must be from God parents, church, friends, or other worldly factors are not legitimate callings into the ministry.  Jesus called each of his disciples his ministers today should hear no less.

The second requirement is the anointing.  When most people think of the anointing, they think of many if not all of the requirements that we listed earlier for preachers.  But these are not sure signs of anointing charlatans and people without the call have been simulating these for years.  The most important sign that a preacher has the anointing is the response he gets when he preaches.  When an anointed preacher speaks forth, the blind should see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the dead live again, and most important of all people should be compelled to seek and find salvation, sanctification, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Peter shows us this in his first Pentecostal sermon, for thousands were transformed under his preaching the second sermon followed another act of his anointing, namely the healing of the lame man.  A preacher’s anointing can only be measured by the lives that are changed under his ministry.

These lofty requirements are necessitated by a simple fact: those who are preachers are in reality the successors to the apostles.  Now the words “apostolic succession” are fighting words to most evangelical Christians, because they are used by the liturgical churches to justify their primacy amongst Christian denominations.  And, if the truth be known, these churches can trace an organizational continuity from the present back through their divisions and onward to the church under the Roman Empire, which includes that of the Apostles themselves.

Unfortunately, quite a lot has gotten lost in the shuffle through the centuries were it not so, all of the divisions that have taken place would have been unnecessary.  To illustrate our point, in 1220 the Roman Catholic Church recognized the Dominican order of priests, named after its founder, the Spaniard Dominic de Guzman.  This same Dominic is reputed to have been standing outside of the complex of St. Peter’s in Rome with the Pope.  Thinking of his claim as Peter’s successor as ruler of the church, the Pope pointed to his magnificent papal complex and said to Dominic “Peter can no longer say, `Silver and gold have I none,'” to which Dominic replied, “No, and neither can he now say, `Rise and walk.'”

Neither the Apostolic Age nor the New Testament church were man-made both were created by Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.  If our preachers and pastors do not have the same charism as the Apostles had in leading the church, how can we hope to experience the same Pentecostal power that they did?

Cut to the Heart

If the anointing is measured with results, Peter was well endowed with both his listeners were “cut to the heart.”  They literally responded en masse, of such a nature that any church growth advocate would be well pleased.  But the impact of Peter’s message was two dimensional not only did he affect a large number of people, but he affected them deeply.  His message got to the root of their problem his words were the Word of God.  “For the Word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”[2]  In addition to reaching many people, Pentecostal preaching must also reach deeply into the depths of the human being.  This is only done when the preaching is fueled and the people are moved by the Holy Spirit.

This is also a controversial subject, because for centuries the essence of getting people saved was their faith being accounted for righteousness, and their name being written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  If this could be accomplished, then a person was going to heaven.  Originally, since this line of thinking was frequently coupled with Calvinistic predestination, people would look for evidence of election in a person’s life and conduct.  Later, as Arminian influences began to be felt in evangelical churches, people began to get the idea that a person could, by their own free will, make the act of faith and repentance and be saved, and neither murder nor apostasy could change the fact.

Make no mistake about it a church that does not first emphasize the justification and salvation of its members, both present and potential, is doing both them and itself the most serious disservice possible.  By playing down the importance of people acquiring justification from God, it will not only consign them to Hell in the next life, it will also pack its pews with apathetic box checkers.  These merely make an appearance every Sunday and then disappear into the woodwork during the week to live whatever life they see fit, approved of God or not.  People need the assurance that their sins are forgiven and that they are right with God.  A right relationship with God, both in this life and the next, is based precisely on this assurance.

However, salvation is not the end of the Christian life it is the beginning.  If the only object of the outreach of the church is to get people initially saved, it doesn’t take a very deep view of the human condition to achieve this all we must do under these circumstances is to induce some feelings of being sorry and some desire to get right with God through Jesus Christ.  There is no real demand to get at the root of the depths of the human condition.  This is especially tempting in the middle class congregations that many pastors are faced with today.  These people have learned the art of external respectability, and how to look right when they may or may not be right.

It is on this account that Jesus insisted that we be born again.  Paul expands on this to say that, when we make Jesus Savior, the old man of sin dies, and the new man in Christ is born in both cases we become new people.  This is a radical transformation of the human self that is all too often conventionalized into oblivion.  When we say that someone is a “born-again Christian,” do we really stop and consider how major an overhaul of a person this implies?  The human condition in its unsaved state is one of complex rottenness.  There are so many nooks and crannies of unredeemed sinfulness in our lives, each one must be worked so we can say “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”[3]

It is the work of the Holy Spirit which makes this major transformation possible it is this which took place under the ministry of Peter.  Traditional Pentecostal parlance would refer to this as placing the people “under conviction.”  This isn’t quite strong enough the wretchedness of their own sinful condition must be forcefully thrust to the center of their attention, and this realization must produce abject surrender in the life of the sinner, which in turn leads him or her to turn to God in love with a whole heart.  Any less than this and the process of rebirth will frequently be stillborn.

Once this had been accomplished in Peter’s hearers, the first thing that was done was to have the new believers baptized.  Some like it and some don’t, but the New Testament church knew of no other kind of baptism than immersion of believers after their conversion.  This is too powerful a statement of a believer’s rebirth to consign it to those who cannot appreciate it.

But then what happens after a person is saved?  We have considered the baptism in the Holy Spirit, but there is one other work that is very important in the life of the believer, and that work is sanctification.

Sanctification

The word sanctification comes from the Latin it means “to make holy.”  Sanctification is especially important to Pentecostals because many of the early Pentecostal pioneers and churches were originally “holiness” people or churches.  Before we get back into history we need to stop and take a look at what it means to be holy.

Simply put, holiness is the state of being set apart something or someone that is holy has first and foremost been chosen and set apart by God for a particular purpose.  “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”[4]  When God sets someone apart, three things take place.  First, the person is set apart from something, specifically the world, its prince the Devil, and the flesh.  Second, the person is set apart into something, namely God himself.  Third, to make this all happen, God induces the necessary transformation in a person so that this transition from darkness to light might be effective.  This is what sanctification is all about.

Now some will argue this transformation takes place at the time of salvation, or others during the process of salvation.  But sanctification and justification are two different things.  Once salvation has taken place, even though a new birth has taken place, we are still bound to our human flesh.  Even Paul discovered “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.  What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!”[5]  To truly be set apart for God this other law must be effectively dealt with, and this is what sanctification is all about.

The doctrine of sanctification as a special work was a common inheritance of many early Pentecostal pioneers, coming out of holiness churches as many did.  It represented a healthy reaction against a lot of “cheap grace” and lackluster Christian living that was floating around then and now.  In the beginning, it was the desire of these people to create a church membership that was, individually and collectively, truly set apart for God, faithfully walking close to God on a daily basis.  This is an admirable objective, a living statement of the basic truth that being a Christian is more than just an external whitewash, but a total transformation.  In the process of implementing sanctification in the life of the church, these pioneers created a climate of strictness in the churches that has been controversial ever since.

Those who carried out this holy mandate ran into two problems.  The first grew out of the central problem in monitoring spiritual development, namely the inability of people to read the mind and discern the heart of others.  This is best reserved for God, even though people who are not up to par spiritually can corrupt the others.  Systems of conduct were instituted to give people some idea of what to look for in holy people.  These spiritual yardsticks became holiness themselves, and so we find may being excluded from church for deviant external practices rather than lack of internal holiness.

The second problem concerned isolation.  Because of the strictness of the churches, those within became an elite group they would not have outlasted the rigors of church had they not been elite in some way.  But this led to serious isolation of these churches from the rest of humanity, and more often than not from the rest of Christianity.  While some isolation is necessary to insulate the church from external corruption, the isolation was of such a nature that in some cases the witness of the church was hindered by it.

It is easy for us to criticize those who have gone before.  In some circles it has become fashionable to do so, all the while living a lifestyle totally opposed to that of their Pentecostal predecessors.  But before we write off the sincere efforts of those who have gone before and then make equally appalling mistakes of our own we need to consider some basic facts.

The idea of church discipline is a biblical one the New Testament spends some time on the subject.  Its purpose is both to restore errant Christians to spiritual health and to protect the rest of the Body of Christ from corruption, and both of these are essential for the life of the church.  The methods outlined in the New Testament are aimed at achieving both.  To be successful in this endeavor requires a great deal of pastoral wisdom and Christian love.  The absence of either will make for miserable church discipline, but this is no excuse for dispensing with same altogether.  Doing so will result in a church where anything goes, at which point a church has lost it purpose for existence.

More than this, a church has a right and an obligation to expect a certain level of commitment from its members, both in terms of what the members are supposed to do and don’t.  Jesus Christ expects us to give everything to him when we are his.  Should his church be honored when we simply show up?  More than this, a church that expects little or nothing from its members implicitly devalues them, because it tells them they have nothing to contribute.  This is the condition of many liberal churches today.  They have become so open and undemanding of their members that many of their members have lost the purpose for being there and have left.  A church that demands much from its members is a church that needs them.

Finally we must return where we started, to the subject of sanctification.  Today we see a great emphasis on church growth, on the addition of numbers to the flock, and not just numbers but large numbers.  This is not an illegitimate pursuit.  Large numbers reveal that our outreach efforts are reaching a large number of people, that we are casting our nets wide in being fishers of men.  But what will these people do when we catch them?  Will they take on a few lifestyle changes and call it Christianity?  Will they contribute to our churches by simply filling our pews and our coffers?  Or will they experience a total transformation of life, not just in doing, but in being, that people who see them will know that they are the Lord’s?

The whole business of sanctification is one that sets us apart from the world and for God, and in the meanwhile makes the inner transformation necessary to make this setting apart real.  Sanctification starts on the inside and works its way out, not the other way around.  No matter how we make ourselves up or don’t, where we can go or can’t, what we can say or can’t, no matter how much external “holiness” we put on, unless this is more than show, unless it is more than to keep our nosey fellow church members off our back, then real sanctification is not ours.  We are then back to external observance of Law, and that is what Jesus came to free us from.  When we are made holy on the inside, the results will come out in a beauty that the world can see and want to have for themselves, and one that also will increase our peace with ourselves.  At this point, the purpose of the Gospel will be fulfilled and we, by the way we are, will be part of that fulfillment.

The development of internal sanctification is not an easy task, either for individuals or for the church at large.  This is why churches and members have all too often settled for external observance it is the easy way out.  But this is one of those things that will yield a hundred fold, both in terms of the inner peace of the Christians and the effect it has on others.  There is no proportion, however, in what we give to God and in what God gives to us, and in this context any price we must pay is a mere pittance to what God has in store for us when we allow him to set us apart for himself.  No matter how much people in the past have misinterpreted the implementation of holiness and sanctification — and we cannot honestly say that they missed the meaning as well, for they did not — we must go on to see the holiness of ourselves and our brothers and sisters in the church implemented in the fullest, not in meanness or pettiness but in love, so that in the end we and others can see Christ alive in us.

The Sun Sets

With the conversion of the three thousand, the account of the first day of Pentecost ends.  The sun sets over Herod’s Palace, darkness falls, and it’s a serious darkness without electric lighting.  Unlike the westerns, however, when the cowboy rides into the sunset with “The End” on his back, the sunset of the day of Pentecost is not the end, but just the beginning of the life of the church and the move of the Spirit.

The Second Chapter of Acts does not end here either, and while the chapter and verse numbering is not an inspired part of the Scriptures, it is none the less fitting that, in the same chapter as the day of Pentecost, there is some account of the activity of the church.  For the church was not stillborn its life started at Pentecost and continues to the present time.  So we must turn now to that brief look at the church in the wake of Pentecost and in particular one aspect of that life that is of ample relevance in our day.


[1]Acts 2:37-41

[2]Heb 4:12

[3]2 Cor 3:18

[4]1 Pt 2:9

[5]Rm 7:22-25

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