Pentecost is for the Church of God, Too!
By Carl Stagner
Pastor Gary Underwood, of Eastside Community Church in Muskogee, Oklahoma, expresses the observation of many in the Church of God movement when he says, “We tend to shy away from the term Pentecost for various reasons, but we need to understand that we are indeed a Pentecost church.” Without the power of the Holy Spirit, after all, our efforts would surely be vain. But not all congregations of the Church of God are shying away from this special day on the church calendar. In prayer and focused devotion, North Hills Church in Phoenix, Arizona, for example, has been building up to the day marking the moment the Holy Spirit was poured out.
Over the past few years, an alternating emphasis surrounding Easter has inspired the north-central Phoenix congregation of the Church of God toward a closer walk with Christ. The Passover Seder experience often remembered on Maundy Thursday was the highlight one year; another year, the church gave special attention to the meaning and commemoration of Good Friday. This year, Pastor Zach Schifferer wanted to reach past Easter and promote a spiritual experience that would last into Pentecost—and ultimately far beyond.
“I have a challenge for you,” Zach announced to the congregation in the first of a series of online videos. “[It is] to celebrate Pentecost. Some of you may not even know what Pentecost is…. [But] I want to invite you on a prayer journey from now until Pentecost Sunday.”
Pastor Zach explained that the purpose of prayer in the days leading up to Pentecost would not be about presenting God with a to-do list; these days would be about discovering where God would have them be a part of his ongoing work in the world.
Would the Spirit send participants to go on mission for Christ to another country? Would he inspire them to go on mission for Christ just down the street, partnering prayerfully and financially with those who have been called beyond international borders? Would the Spirit impress upon individuals to reconcile with one another, renounce a sinful pattern, or commit to greater intimacy with God? Would the Spirit command them to join an existing work of the Lord in the neighborhood of North Hills Church to plant seeds of the gospel and see lives changed? Only time will tell, but one thing’s for certain—those who truly set aside the days between Easter and Pentecost could not be unaffected by the divine.
“People have been responding to the videos, especially,” Ashley Becker explains. Ashley, who serves North Hills as pastor and director of worship and communication, rejoices over the impact of the initiative on the congregation. “The people who have been doing this are hearing from God and have been excited about it, journaling their way through the prayer journey.”
The experience will culminate on Pentecost Sunday with a celebration service wholly dedicated to worship, prayer, and reflection. The work of the Holy Spirit, as well as the healing power of God, will be discussed. Monday evening, a follow-up prayer gathering will close out the month-long initiative.
Back in Oklahoma, Gary Underwood looks forward to yet another Pentecost Sunday, too. A few years ago, he published some thoughts on the Church of God observance of the holiday that ring true to this day.
“As Oral Withrow states in Meet us at the Cross, ‘Yes, we are Pentecostal, if by the term you mean the Holy Spirit was given to the early church and continues to come, empower, and call the church to servant ministries.’ Shall we not shy away from the term Pentecost, but cry out to the God of the heavens to experience yet again a personal Pentecost in our lives by which we are emboldened by power of the Holy Spirit? The power which calls us to live a sanctified and holy life, the power that gives us a new passion and love for the Word of God, and the power that compels to share Jesus with lost and hurting people?”
Referring to the Church of God heritage hymn penned by William J. Henry, Pastor Gary writes, “Lord, let the fire of Pentecost fall on us individually, and then corporately, so that the church will be the church that Jesus established, died for, and is coming back for.”
Mark Richardson, state pastor for the Church of God in Michigan, also addressed the subject this year, observing in a newsletter for the region, “I know there has been much that is questionable about how people have dealt with the Holy Spirit in the church. There certainly has been much done over the centuries that is more theatrical and antics rather than the legitimate moving of the Holy Spirit. This can give us pause, and can certainly cause us to be skeptical. Yet, I am convinced that the Holy Spirit is alive and active in our times, and he still gifts us, because the Church of God still needs to be built up (edified), and that is how he chooses to do so.”
He concludes, “On the day of Pentecost, 120 submissive and Spirit-filled believers spoke with languages (tongues) that they had not learned, but were given the ability to speak by the Holy Spirit. They spoke in the languages of 16 different geographical regions. Yet, the key message in this was that those who heard them, heard them in their own languages. Most importantly, they heard the message of the glory of God, and through the Apostle’s preaching 3,000 [people] gave their hearts and lives to Jesus Christ that very day. That was certainly unimaginable to them all, yet God’s power was at work through the Holy Spirit, and he still works today.”
Lord, I would be wholly thine, I would do thy will divine,
From the world of sin and self I would be free;
On the altar now I lie, and with all my heart I cry,
Let the holy fire from heaven fall on me.
Let the fire fall on me, let the fire fall on me;
The fire of Pentecost, consuming sin and dross,
Let the holy fire from heaven fall on me.” —William J. Henry, circa 1923
As Global Strategy has reminded the Church of God movement, “the Spirit still fills. Are you open? The Spirit still calls. Can you hear? The Spirit still sends. Will you respond? You may not know who the Holy Spirit is or how the Spirit is working in your life. For many of us, the work of the Holy Spirit is shrouded in mystery. For others, we’ve become so caught up in the busyness of our lives and the press of our to-do lists that we’ve no longer sensitive to the Holy Spirit the way we once were. Many of us wonder what role he plays in our lives. Are you willing to pursue the Spirit in your life and in the life of your church?”