A Christmas Pentecost
Christmas, by itself as the birthday of Jesus, could lend itself to a great deal of sentimentality, which is most welcome in winter time… In the light of Pentecost, however, we are not left to ourselves in our effort to cheer up a cold world torn apart by human strife and suspicion. The child Jesus, born in Bethlehem, grew up to be a man. He died and rose again. He has come back in the Spirit who was given on Pentecost… [and this] Christ must be born in us. This is the decision before which Christmas places us… we are asked to make up our minds whether we will continue in our own spirit or in the Spirit of the Christ child.
Evangelism and Contemporary Theology (98)
Pieter De Jong – Tidings – 1962
Back in 2009 I read a fascinating blog written by a United Methodist minister (“Christmas Christians, Easter Christians, and Pentecost Christians” – Rev. Dan Dick – “United Methodeviations” @ http://doroteos2.com/about/). He identified “Christmas Christians, Easter Christians, and Pentecost Christians” not by when they show up in church for worship, but by the distinctive emphases of their particular version of Christianity. He summarized them this way –
Christmas Christians form a deep relationship with Jesus, wanting to know Jesus personally, follow Jesus’ teachings exactly, and live life in a way they believe is pleasing to God. Right belief is a driving force for Christmas Christians.
Easter Christians seek to understand the risen Christ, to live lives that reflect the power and presence of Jesus the Christ in the world today. Behavior pleasing to God in the form of mercy, grace, justice, and love shape this worldview.
Pentecost Christians seek to be the incarnate body of Christ in the world, guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Shunning legalism and exclusion, this worldview embraces a future grounded in the vision of the realm of God, and refuses to be bound by the past.
David Bosch in his book Transforming Mission (Eerdmans/Orbis 1991) expanded the categories by naming the six “salvific events” of Christ’s life and the corresponding kinds of Christians that each one of these saving acts produces – (1) Christmas Christians who emphasize the Incarnation of Christ; (2) Good Friday Christians who emphasize the Atonement of Christ; (3) Easter Christians who emphasize the Resurrection of Christ; (4) Ascension Christians who emphasize the Lordship of Christ; (5) Pentecost Christians who emphasize the continuing indwelling and empowering Presence of Christ; and (6) “Parousia,” or Second “Coming” Christians who emphasize Christ’s return in Glory and the establishment of His Kingdom that will have no end. With Rev. Dick, Dr. Bosch agreed that the saving work of God in Jesus Christ is more than just one thing that solves more than just one problem, and that different Christians, by emphasizing one or another of these saving aspects of the work of Christ, have different “flavors.” But none of this should be taken as the endorsement of one dimension of Christ’s saving work over some other aspect of His saving work.
Just because we tend to pick and choose doesn’t mean that we’re supposed to. In fact, by approaching Christianity like the serving line at Luby’s Cafeteria, it’s real easy to wind up with an unbalanced meal of nothing but desserts. Some of my Pentecostal friends used to call themselves “full Gospel” Christians, and I really liked that language, only I’d take it even further than they did. To them being “full Gospel” meant that Pentecost needed to be added to their Christmas/Good Friday/Easter Christianity. I’d use “full Gospel” to refer to a Christianity that embraced all six salvific Christ events. It seems to me that to be a Biblically balanced Christian you need to have a Biblically comprehensive faith, and so to the question, “Are you a Christmas Christian, an Easter Christian or a Pentecost Christian?” I’d answer “Yes, I am,” and then I would quickly add, “And I am a Good Friday Christian, an Ascension Christian and a Parousia Christian too.” It is only by embracing the fullness of Christ’s saving work that I receive the fullness of its benefit. Only when taken altogether, the “full Gospel” touches my head and my heart. In the objective events of salvation history that are true resides the potential for subjective experiences of faith made real. In his 1907 book – The Heart of the Gospel – James M. Campbell explained –
The ground of salvation is in the historical Christ. His death for human sin is an accomplished fact, an objective reality, standing out on the canvas of history. In gospel preaching the objective side of things must be explained, for it is from the objective truth that the subjective experience comes. If the outward revelation is discarded, inward experience withers and dies… Those who… have tried to rise to a position in which they would become independent of the outward revelation, have in kicking away the ladder by which they have risen cut themselves off from connection with the solid facts upon which all experience must ultimately rest. The Christian grows in grace by growing in the knowledge of His Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He gathers strength by transmuting objective knowledge into subjective power. Before the saving work of Christ can attain its end, the objective gospel must produce certain subjective effects, and its historical facts become spiritual forces. The work which Christ has done for us must have as its counterpart a work that He does in us.
We need this power of a subjective experience of the objective Gospel. The truth of who Jesus Christ is and what Jesus Christ has done for us needs to become real in our lives and in our world, and for this to happen we need the “full Gospel,” especially what Pentecost brings to the party. This has been driven home to me with particular force this Christmas season. Reading through the Gospels again as part of the Advent spiritual discipline to which we were called as a church, I began to become aware of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in a new way. And then an article by the folks at the Calvin Institute for Worship at Calvin College up in Michigan brought things into forceful focus for me –
Our Christmas cards, crèches, and storybooks are filled with the characters of the Christmas drama: Elizabeth, Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, angels, shepherds, magi, even Simeon and Anna. But the biblical account of Jesus’ birth in the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke refers repeatedly to another participant in the Christmas drama, the Holy Spirit. Though often unnoticed and uncelebrated, it is the Holy Spirit who comes upon Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah, and Simeon. Similarly, the Old Testament prophecies that foretell the in-breaking of God’s kingdom frequently speak of the coming of the Spirit of the Lord, though these texts are strikingly underrepresented in most Advent worship services. The Holy Spirit is the forgotten participant in the Christmas drama. This omission is seen not only in the Christmas card selection at Hallmark, but also in music for the season. There are dozens of shepherd carols, magi carols, angel carols, and Mary and Joseph carols, but precious few that acknowledge the work of the Spirit. http://worship.calvin.edu/resources/resource-library/a-pentecostal-christmas-lessons-and-carols-2002
One of the most beloved carols that we sing each Christmas includes the petition: “Cast out our sin, and enter in; be born in us today.” This is a reference to what the church has traditionally called the “Middle Coming” of Christ. The season of Advent is when the church focuses on the coming of Christ. And historically the church has talked about not just one coming of Christ, but three: the first Coming of Christ in humility at Christmastime, the Second Coming of Christ in glory at the close of the age, and the Middle Coming of Christ into the hearts of the faithful, initially at conversion (John 14:23; Acts 2:38), and then repeatedly throughout the life of discipleship, our “long obedience in the same direction” (Ephesians 5:18). And it is the indwelling and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit that facilitates this “Middle Coming” of Christ. It is the Holy Spirit’s assignment in the economy of our salvation to take the objective finished work of Christ, His death, Burial and Resurrection, and to subjectively apply it to each one of our hearts individually. Or, to put it another way, Christ could be born in a thousand Bethlehem’s, but until and unless He is born in our hearts, it really doesn’t matter that much to us. And so this Christmastide pray for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit in your heart, our church and this world. This is something for which Jesus Christ specifically told us to pray. God gives the fullness of the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him for it (Luke 11:13). A good prayer to start with, to “prime the pump,” is a prayer that anyone who has ever been on a Walk to Emmaus knows by heart –
O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.