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Are You Pentecostal?

Something in the way he lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper signaled the one-preacher-to-anotherkind of question he wanted to ask me.  Already familiar with most of the public facts, he had called me to get the inside scoop on someone I know, sounding just as wary as my mother-in-law when she first began to suspect my intentions for her daughter.  "Can you tell me something about him?" he asked, "I heard he is Pentecostal."

Now among the many quirks of the English language is the way that nouns tend to lose confidence whenever they are turned into adjectives.  For example, I remember one of my best teachers telling us in class one day that Pentecost is a fine, solid, thoroughly dignified noun with impeccable credentials and a truly noble lineage.  Speaking about the noun form that day, my professor patiently explained to us that Pentecost was an ancient harvest festival of the Hebrews as well as a Jewish celebration of God's revelation of the Covenant through Moses at Mount Sinai.  He also pointed out that we can always note  that Pentecost occurs fifty days after Easter, falling each year on the calendar precisely seven weeks and one day after the prior celebration of Passover.  Best of all, we can now remember it as the birthday of Christ's Church when the Holy Spirit empowered the Lord's remaining disciples to do what he had commanded by accomplishing the unimaginable among the unbelieving in a fashion that proved unstoppable.  In short, we can say it this way: As a noun, Pentecost will hold its own with no embarrassment, doubt, or hesitation.

Unfortunately, the preacher friend calling for me on the phone was instead using Pentecost in its adjectival form, and once that happens, all bets are off.  Perhaps you have already noticed that if you start talking about being Pentecostal, the room may begin to empty in fairly short order not because the word itself is bad but because adjectives tend to lack the granite chin of conviction if there are no nearby nouns to modify.  And with that in mind, let me try to define this interesting adjective Pentecostal.  For early in the history of our denomination, it was one of the descriptive names by which we publicly identified ourselves.  We said we were Pentecostal as a way of testifying that we harbored a hope and prayer that what God once did, God is still ready to do.  More specifically, back in those initial days that we were known as the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene, we meant by that phrase that we wanted to be a church both purified and empowered to serve and bear witness by the Holy Spirit of God.  So if in changing our name by dropping the awkwardness of that adjective Pentecostal we were opting to focus on the Spirit gift of purity while abandoning any interest in the Spirit gift of power, well then, we are to be pitied.  Jesus was quite clear in his insistence that our baptism with the Spirit was intended as an offer of both purity and power, just as the Father had previously promised.

If you ask me, nothing about those twin emphases embodied in our initial ecclesiastical name need be abandoned.  But neither will such hopes be achieved by merely trying to recreate Pentecost as a noun.  The Church always seems to go disastrously wrong whenever it attempts to recreate its memories.  Often those congregations aiming to do so predictably end up tangled in some sort of grotesque legalism as they endlessly invest themselves in a frozen repetition of some long and forgotten One True Way.  But this Pentecost, why don't we instead assume that it is still possible for the people of God to be a truly authentic and appropriately Pentecostal church?  How would we do this?  Well, we can do what people of faith always do in preparing to receive what only God can give.  We could silence ourselves.  We could determine to wait for what only God can actually provide in a posture of obedience and receptivity.  We can pray to receive as much as the Lord would care to bestow in love for a people only a Father could love.  We can even choose to make ourselves of one mind, attentively ready to worship and serve together.  And then we can look to offer our faithful witness every time one is needed.  In the end, I think you could say that being Pentecostal is not an attempt to relive history.  It is merely an open, obedient consent to make ourselves available in any way that is necessary to once again make history.

Jeff Crosno