No one person or group of people could have brought about the first church community. No heights of oratory, no burning enthusiasm, could have awakened for Christ the thousands who were moved at the time, or produced the united life of the early church. The friends of Jesus knew this very well. Had not the risen one himself commanded them to wait in Jerusalem for the fulfillment of the great promise? (Luke 24:49) John had baptized in water all those who listened to him. But the first church was to be submerged in and filled with the holy wind of Christ’s Spirit (Acts 2:1–2).
The apostles were instructed to remain in Jerusalem until they were clothed with power from on high. That was the founding of the church, which in turn was possible only through the fact of the resurrection. For what was the first thing the apostles proclaimed? “This one pure one, whom you have killed, has been awakened by God!” (Acts 2:22–24)
At Pentecost the apostles of Jesus were suddenly able to feel so completely with other people that their hearers could take their words to heart, for these words echoed their mother tongue and their true calling. The crowd was moved by the same Spirit that spoke through the leaders; the listeners had the same overpowering experience as the speakers (Acts 2:4–11).
It was neither hypnosis nor human persuasiveness. People allowed God to work in them; they were overpowered and filled by his Spirit. At that moment the only true collective soul took on shape and form; the organic unity of the mysterious body of Christ, the church community, was born…
The crowds that were gathered from different nations for Pentecost cried out with one voice, “We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God!” (Acts 2:11) The great works of God were what counted, and nothing else. Pentecost was God’s way of bringing about his future reign. Pentecost was his message of righteousness to all nations, a powerful demonstration of God’s deeds for the whole of humankind and for each individual…
When the murderers of Jesus stood in the presence of the living Christ, they were confronted with absolute truthfulness. Then they felt the need for forgiveness of their sins. They experienced the inner poverty that could be satisfied only through the gift of the Holy Spirit. The first response to this overwhelming inflow of the Spirit was the question that surged from people’s hearts: “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37)
As a result, there came about a complete transformation of people’s inner being, a reshaping of their lives. It was in fact the very change of heart and conduct that John the Baptist had proclaimed as the first requirement for the great revolution to come, the turning upside down of everything. We cannot separate personal rebirth from this total transformation in Christ.
The only way the world will recognize the mission of Jesus is by the unity of his church. But this unity of the church must be translated into total community. Jesus spoke of the absolute unity between his Father and himself. And his prayer for us is that we be just as united (John 17:21–22). Can there still be mine and thine between us? No. What is mine is thine, and what is thine is mine. In the Spirit of the church, everything we have belongs to all. First and foremost we have community in the innermost values of the common life. But if we share the treasures of the Spirit, which are the greater ones, how can we refuse to share the lesser things?
Adapted from God’s Revolution (Walden, NY: Plough, 2021).
Article edited for length and clarity.