Today is Pentecost. For many that was a wonderful event that happened at the beginning of the church to kick things off. After the church was established and the Bible was completed than Pentecost began to fade in importance and became tantamount to the birthday of the church—at least so goes one interpretation of church history and theology.
Then along came Azusa street and churches began to call themselves ‘Pentecostal’ and hundreds of millions came to Christ through that movement around the world. Now far more than half of the Christians in the world believe that the “Gifts’ are for today and experiences similar to Pentecost are constantly re-occurring and renewing the church. In fact, it is only among Christians in the Western world that this is an issue at all.
I believe that the example of Pentecost and the early church is going to be very important for the American church as it is in the midst of change. The 120 first Church of Jerusalem Christians were a group that was continually under some form of persecution. First from the Jewish authorities and later from the Romans. It was only through the power and counsel of the Holy Spirit that the church was able to survive and spread across the entire known world in one generation.
This is also happening in the present generation. It is said that more have come to Christ in the last 40 years or so than in all the previous generations combined. If you live in Europe or even in some parts of America, the church seems to be in decline, but not so everywhere else. There is a great harvest going on in Africa and Asia, and South America also is beginning to pick it up.
In the Western world and in America, Christianity was an institution and part of the culture—but increasingly not so anymore. In the future it will be increasingly important for Western Christians to take seriously the examples of Pentecost and the early Christian church as never before—a church that thrived and grew under persecution.
Strangely enough, the example of the Chinese Christians could well be a pattern for Western churches and particularly the American church to consider in the future. They band together to create home fellowships and supporting communities in the face of governmental and cultural persecution.
They continue to grow through prophetic inspiration, healings, sign and wonders, and miracles. Note also that nearly all of their leaders are self supporting—in these difficult economic times there are churches all over America that can no longer afford a full-time pastor, particularly in small mid-western towns. This example is also currently being duplicated in India which is in the midst of incredible revival.