For Pentecostal/Charismatic Christians, the day of the Pentecost as described in the book of Acts is the gold standard for the life of the Church. There are various types of Charismatics, of course, so there are different emphases, but all look back to Pentecost. The movement that started at Azusa Street about one hundred years ago has spread across the world and has found itself among Christians of all varieties. From Oneness Pentecostals to Charismatic Catholics, they all look back to Acts, to the life of the apostolic church, but many do not look at the full picture.
Most Charismatics love to talk about the gifts of the Holy Spirit described in the first couple of chapters of Acts. Speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing, and repentance are all deeply cherished, but there is another gift of the Spirit that is neglected in many of today’s Charismatic circles – economic equality.
It must be stated that the early Pentecostal movement was fully aware of the economic dimension of the Spirit’s outpouring upon the Church. There are many examples in Pentecostalism, the Holiness movement, and Charismatic movement of the 1960s of Spirit-filled communities embracing the counter-cultural aspects of Pentecost. It was in these church communities that we find a significant amount of leadership from traditionally marginalized groups in the American church, such as women, the poor, and people of color. They were some of the first churches of recent history to embrace women’s ordination and racial integration. They were also against war and wealth.
St. Peter, in his Pentecost sermon, quotes the prophet Joel:
In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Acts 2:17-21)
In this passage, Joel and Peter show us that the gifts of the Spirit will be accessible to all. The gifts such as prophesy and tongues will be experienced by all flesh. This is the basic message that everyone understands from this portion of Scripture. But then we see verse 18, “Even on my servants . . . I will pour out my Spirit”. This passage is not simply crossing lines of gender, age, and ethnicity as most recognize. Rather, the Pentecost described by Joel and Peter is also crossing barriers of class. It is not only the kings, temple priests, or rabbis who are receiving the Holy Spirit, but also the servants.
These events at Pentecost reflect something that St. Paul taught:
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Colossians 3:11)
And we see this lived out in the apostolic church right after Pentecost:
Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. (Acts 2:43-45, cf. Acts 4:32-35)
In Pentecost, there is a class upheaval, where all are brothers and sisters, all are heirs like Christ, the first and last and the last are first. In Pentecost, the Spirit makes a mockery of our man-made social classes and mammon.
Some make the claim that this movement of economic equality stopped soon after the events described in Acts took place. However, the early church fathers suggest otherwise:
Let your alms sweat in your hands, until you know to whom you should give. (Didache 1:23)
Thou shalt make thy neighbor partake in all things, and shalt not say that anything is thine own. For if ye are fellow partakers in that which is imperishable, how much rather shall ye be in the things which are perishable. (Epistle of Barnabas 19:8)
We who formerly treasured money and possessions more than anything else now hand over everything we have to a treasury for all and share it with everyone who needs it (Justin Martyr, The First Apology 14).
[Y]ou are gathered together in one that you might live harmoniously and that there be one soul and one heart toward God. And you should not call anything your own, but let all things be common to you and distributed to each one of you according to need. (St. Augustine, Letter 211.5)
The Church has been unfaithful regarding these teachings, but the Gospel urges us to follow this example. Being that the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement is about revival of the Church, we must take another look at these teachings.
But yet, for many in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement today, we seem to ignore these economic teachings that we saw in the first Pentecost. In fact, we often now embrace a contradictory message in which wealth, power, and influence are seen as the blessing of God. In the United States, many Pentecostal/Charismatic Christians have partnered closely with the rich and powerful. Outreach to celebrities and White House meetings with the Trump administration come to mind.
The message of Pentecost, however, calls us to surrender our economic inequalities. Pentecost calls us to intentional community with one another as brothers and sisters in the Church, and Pentecost calls us to lay aside worldly status in the outpouring of love for the other.
Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!