Historian Martin Mittelstadt on the Meaning of Pentecost and What Pentecostalism Can Give to the Postmodern Western Church

Fifty days after Christ’s resurrection, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost, filling the church in Jerusalem with divine power.

And over 2,000 years later, Christians who call themselves “Pentecostals” have something unique to contribute to the ever-advancing Kingdom, particularly how to do evangelism and apologetics in a postmodern context, says a Christian historian.

In a Wednesday phone interview with The Christian Post, Martin Mittelstadt, a professor of New Testament who also teaches Pentecostal history and theology at Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri, unpacked the meaning of this pivotal event in church history and what it means for the Church today.

The landing point for the earliest Pentecostals was Acts 2, he explained, as they saw that sharing the Gospel was the central motif, it was about the growth of the Church.

“And the drive for them was evangelism. The goal was to get as many people into the Kingdom in a short period of time,” Mittelstadt said, adding “it takes place based upon the disciples not first and foremost being witnesses of the resurrection, but upon their empowerment that takes place on the Day of Pentecost that launches the mission.”

Pentecostals, then, will not rely solely on Acts 2 but recognize the ongoing outpouring of the Spirit in the rest of the book. The entire Acts narrative provides the framework for how Pentecostals have historically approached and continue to think about their mission.

“Another thing that early Pentecostals did was bring a very fresh view of ‘Who is Jesus?’ And so Jesus was not simply someone unique to work on our behalf but Jesus became for us the example of the consummate man of the Spirit,” he continued.

“As Jesus is filled with the Spirit, He becomes the one to baptize in the Spirit and so the early church is able to do all that Jesus began to do and teach.”

When Christians read the Gospels and the book of Acts they are engaging texts written several decades after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The New Testament books, then, provide a look back at what the writers — who have hindsight and things were clearer to them than they were when the events took place — experienced and thought, which have had profound theological implications for ministry.

And though Jesus spoke of what was coming in Acts 2 — telling his followers to wait until they had clothed with power from on high in Luke 24 — the events that took place have always required explanation as they were strange phenomena no one could have predicted, and not necessarily understood. The book of Acts does not give the impression that everyone who was present knew it to be an act of God, Mittelstadt said, noting how Peter got up and had to point out that people who were speaking in other languages were not drunk as it was only 9 in the morning.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Brandon Showalter