The Traditions of Pentecost
and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts
Harry Y. Gamble - a digest
Oswald was out of work and his wife, Nancy, worked at home. One evening Nancy asked her husband to get the 2 kids out of the house so she could get some work done. "Take them to a movie," she commanded.
Two hours later, Oswald returned with the kids. He burst through the door and proceeded to turn on every light in the living room. Then the kids and him got down on their knees and started looking for something on the carpet.
Nancy came into the room -- "You’re home -- what are y’all looking for over there?" Oswald replied, "Honey I lost a contact lens and we’re trying to find it. I could hardly see the movie with out it." Nancy got down on her knees, and after about 15 minutes hunting, she said, "Oswald, are you sure you lost your contact here?" "Heck, no," Oswald replied. "I lost it in the theater. But you know how dark those places are. Me and the kids thought we’d come back home, turn on all the lamps, then look for it where the light is better."
Nancy thought about what he said for a minute, then replied. "Well, then. It’s just a matter of time. With the four of us all looking, we’ll find that booger in a minute or so."
We look at the same scripture every year on Pentecost Sunday, and we find the same things. But this year, let’s go back into the darkness to find the original lens, through which we may discover the connection between the Feast of Pentecost and the Pentecost that we call "the Birthday of the Church."
Why were they there? So they could be clothed with power and then witness to the devout pilgrims who were in Jeruslaem for the Feast.
The Disciples of Jesus were notorious, seditious criminals wanted by the authorities with an immediate death sentence awaiting them if captured. Nevertheless, they tarried for 2 reasons:
(1) Obedience to the Living Jesus, who told them to wait there until they received the promise of his Father, which was "clothing with power."
(2) Obedience to the Law of God, for it was Pentecost. The keepers of the law were required to be in attendance in Jerusalem despite political authorities. The Law of God is higher than the Law of the ruling political party. Jesus knew that if the Disciples kept the biblical Feast of Pentecost, they would receive the Holy Spirit!
Observance of the Feast of Pentecost is commanded in Leviticus 23:15-21. It is the commemoration of the giving of God’s Law, which begins with the 10 Commandments of Exo 20. In Exo 20 through 23, Moses reads the Law of God to the people, who respond with these words found in Exo 24:3,4 & 7: "All the words which God has spoken we will do." And in the time of Acts, "devout men from every nation" obediently traveled to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost, to hear the Law of God spoken again so that they could reaffirm their obedience with the same, ancient words: "All that God has spoken we will do."
Notice now the similarities between the first Pentecost and the events
that occurred in our reading today:
Had the disciples not been obedient to the Law and the Commandment of Jesus, there would have been no giving of the Spirit in their generation. This speaks volumes about both the validity of God’s law and obedience to its commands.
Pentecostal Experiences of the Obedient: But they obediently stayed in the city, and because they did, this Pentecost was different! It was the debut of the New Covenant promise that all obedient people could receive the Spirit of power that fueled the prophets of old (just one at a time).
They "spoke in tongues" which means they spoke in languages they had never learned. They were understood by the devout foreigners; for they were speaking ‘about the mighty works of God.’
Why did the disciples speak in tongues?
Now, is this Pentecostal experience for today? One of the foundations of Wesleyan theology is this experience, which we used to call ‘the second blessing,’ is available to the obedient, devout believer today. Wesley said that to receive the ‘second blessing’ one would have to be a Commandment-keeper and a devout church-goer.
Did you know that Methodists believe in this second work of grace beyond ‘salvation’! I bet you old-timers like me remember when preachers used to preach second-blessing holiness! And the belief in the second blessing of Pentecost is the primary point that distinguishes us Methodists from our neighbors down the road.
What is the evidences of having received the Second Blessing of Pentecost?
(1) Wesley taught that, if you have received it, you will know it -- and others will know it for sure, because you will have a tongue of fire. This does not necessarily mean a person will speak in tongues. It does mean that a person will not be afraid to tell others about what the Father has done for her and she will not be afraid to name the name of his Son in conversation.
(2) Wesley also taught that you are baptized in the Spirit, you start working out your salvation in love by keeping the Commandments. This is just the beginning of a narrow pathway that leads to Christian Perfection - perfection in love.
(3) Wesley also taught that the evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit would be obedience to the ordinances of the assembly that had been passed down to us from the very first. I will conclude my talk today with a discussion about our obedience to the church ordinances and move from Wesley to the Apostle Paul.
Tongues and Tradition
The Apostle Paul was not in the upper room at Pentecost. At that time, he was an enemy of the fledgling church and was studying church practices fanatically. And he witnessed to the fact that he knew the other disciples of Jesus personally, like Peter, James and John.
In regards to the traditions and ordinances of the church, Paul wrote, "I commend you [Corinthians] because you maintain the traditions [of the faith] just as I delivered them to you" (1 Co 11:2). In another place he wrote, "What I received at first I also delivered to you..." (1 Co 15:3). You see, there is a passing down of truth that we must be sensitive to when we speak of the power in tradition. That is what preaching is all about!
Most people who claim to be baptized in the Spirit today say they can prove it because they speak in tongues. Well, that is one evidence. But it seems to me like most people who speak in tongues and claim to be ‘experts’ in spiritual matters don’t know beans about the essential traditions delivered down through hundreds and hundreds of years by martyrs and saints, ‘devout men and women,’ obedient to the Commandments of God and the Testimony of Jesus, even unto death.
Traditions Passed to Us
These types of people often precede the word ‘tradition’ with the adjective ‘dead’ -- ‘dead tradition.’ "We are alive," they say, "and you are dead in your tradition." I have called tradition dead in past times, and some of it is very dead. But I have also found that many traditions, if seen in the light of its origin and through the blood of the thousands of martyrs who passed them down to us, can be very much alive, profitable and powerful. It all depends upon one’s attitude in regards to that tradition. I want to speak of three profitable, powerful traditions that have been passed down from the very first until today: the Law of God, the Sacraments and the Creeds.
(1) The Law of God - I will speak about the Law next Sunday morning. Suffice it to say that though the Law, the Ten Commandment in particular, were destroyed as stone tablets, they are supposed to be written on the heart of every Spirit-filled believer (2 Co 3:3). If they are written on the heart, then they are all the more binding today than when they were just written in ink. Read them sometime (Exo 20), especially the first through fourth commandments, and see for yourself if they are written on your heart. You may easily measure your obedience to your Father in that manner.
(2) The Communion of Saints. Jesus commanded that this tradition was to be observed often, and in an attitude the extreme seriousness or repentance. The Methodist Church believes that the elements of the communion, the bread and wine, do indeed become the body and blood of our Savior in a spiritual sense. As such, the utmost care must be taken when approaching the body and blood of the Savior, else you will eat and drink to your detriment.
The words of the traditional communion service, the same words you find
in your hymnbook, have been passed down to us from the very first.
You can read the same words preserved in a first-century document called The
Teaching of the Twelve Apostles as you now read in "Great
Thanksgiving" section of the communion service in your hymnbook. You
may partake of the sake communion service that the apostles observed, and
all the saints from that time, even though 2 millennia have passed, by
observing the communion right recorded in the UM Hymnal or Book
(3) The final tradition I want to emphasize here is the the Creed. The Apostles Creed that is printed in your bulletin has been handed down to you by the Apostles themselves. The Apostles Creed is made of twelve lines. It is said that each of the 12 Apostles wrote a line. And now it belongs to you.
‘Creed’ comes from the Latin word credo, which means ‘I believe.’ Reciting what you believe right out loud and in public sets up a very, very powerful supernatural force. You not only proclaim the story to all the living and dead, past present and future, in the communion of saints and make your position with them known, but reciting the creed is a strong form of spiritual warfare. The demons and evil spiritual entities that try to ruin your life cringe, flee and are destroyed when they hear you enthusiastically recite the creed and then fill yourself with the body and blood of their nemesis.
Friends, these are not dead traditions. The Spirit of Pentecost brings them alive through your obedience. The power of Pentecost manifests itself not only in the supernatural and unusual experiences described in Acts chapter 2, but also in the commands, traditions and disciplines that grew out of the Pentecostal power. Among these are the fervent obedience to the Commandments, the serious reliving of the passion of Jesus through Communion and the proclamation of the creed of the Apostles. Let us begin to experience afresh the power of Pentecost as we begin to live obediently among the saints of all ages.
Recite the Apostles Creed