Is Pentecost the birthday of the Church?
I heard a Christian podcast arguing the Pentecost is not the birthday of the Church. I couldn't follow the argument and have always been used to hearing that Pentecost IS the birthday of the Church. Can anyone explain?
Is Pentecost the birthday of the Church?
Birth of the church is a good metaphor for the day of Pentecost although the Bible does not use it. There were of course essential previous events–the birth and earthly ministry of Jesus, and what directly precedes Pentecost. That is the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. The resurrected Jesus himself orders the apostles to stay in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is then that they will receive the “power” that they need to carry out their mission (Acts 1.8). It is an empowerment of a group, not of isolated followers.
Think of the difference it would be if Jesus instead had ordered every one of them to go to their individual homes, and there they would receive the Holy Spirit. Even if they would receive this Spirit at the same time, it would be quite different. They wouldn’t receive it as a body, as an empowered group. Instead the church is founded; they are a group; they are together. Each member nevertheless is a significant part of it. They are a body gathered together, but each member receives the gift of the Holy Spirit
Similarly, Paul calls the “church” "the body of Christ” and each one “individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12.27-28). This body of Christ is the group that was born at Pentecost where the gift of the Spirit was first received. Paul has just said that this body of Christ is where “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” ( 1 Cor. 12.7). It is a group for the effective work of the church, but the gifts for that health and mission of the body are given to the individual members. Each one has the flame.
Where did this begin? It began at Pentecost. Was there ever a greater birth day?
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The "Pentecost" event described in the Acts of the Apostles (chapter 2) is often referred to in liturgical tradition also as "Whitsunday," or the Feast of the Descent of the Holy Spirit" narrated there in Acts. It ranks, after Easter, as the second festival of the church, and there are references to its celebration as early as the 4th century. The reference to the event as the "birthday of the church" is, so far as I know, a more informal label, not an official one.
I too have heard that Pentecost is the birthday of the church. It certainly is a seminal event in the book of Acts, for at that time the twelve apostles (Matthias has just replaced Judas Iscariot, 1:24-26) are filled with the Holy Spirit, they speak so that those gathered in Jerusalem from all over the world can understand, Peter preaches, and 3000 people are baptized (2:1-41). Thus begins the movement--predicted by Jesus--in which the apostles bear witness "in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (1:8 CEB). I would say that the "majority opinion" is that Pentecost is the "birthday of the church." For a Catholic perspective see http://www.americancatholic.org/messenger/jun2003/Family.asp and http://www.aquinasandmore.com/catholic-articles/pentecost-the-birth-of-the-church/article/275. From a mainline Protestant perspective see http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/pages/about/. And from an evangelical perspective, see http://www.truthortradition.com/articles/is-the-day-of-pentecost-the-birthday-of-the-church.This opinion is not universally held, however. A writer from an "Orthodox perspective" argues that the Church Fathers held that the Church had no beginning but that it existed before all things. See http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2009/06/is-pentecost-birthday-of-church.html A similar argument is made from a Reformed perspective at https://garynealhansen.com/ispentecostthebirthdayofthechurch/ and at http://www.reformedworship.org/article/march-1988/pentecost-birthday-church.I wish to "cast my lot," so to speak, with the dissenters: It is not particularly helpful to speak of Pentecost as the birthday of the church. Pentecost is only mentioned in one chapter in the New Testament. Paul, for example, does not refer to it in any of his letters. He is more focused on the death, resurrection, and especially the parousia (coming, i.e. second coming) of Jesus (see 1 Cor. 15:1-28). And John has Jesus giving the Spirit on Easter Sunday night (20:22). Indeed, Easter, Ascension Day, and Pentecost Sunday are all rolled into one for John (see John 20:17).Although I prefer not to speak of Pentecost--or any day, for that matter--as the "birthday of the church," I wholeheartedly support celebrating Pentecost Sunday as an important event in the church year. Certainly today we need a fresh infusion of the Spirit so that we "demonstrate God's goodness to everyone" (Acts 2:47; see 2:42-47).