Formations 05.31.2020: Pentecost

Acts 19:1-7

Everybody knows about Christmas. Even people with only a passing familiarity with Christianity embrace the Christian ideals of generosity, joy, and goodwill to others when December 25 comes around.

And everybody knows about Easter, though it has not been secularized to anywhere near the same extent as Christmas. Secular folks might not quite grasp how the themes of this holiday relate to them, but it doesn’t keep them from hiding Easter eggs or enjoying a nice family dinner every spring.

Though we Christians might well decry the commercialization of our holidays, we must admit that at least our American culture reminds us that these holidays are on the calendar.

But Pentecost? Pentecost has never gained a secular mascot like Santa or the Easter Bunny. Stores don’t advertise Pentecost sales in early summer. Radio stations don’t flood the airwaves with Pentecost songs.

What’s interesting to me is that a lot of churches don’t make much of Pentecost, either. The three main holidays of the Christian liturgical year are Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. I must admit that when I first had this explained to me, it was a revelation. The church of my childhood and youth never even mentioned Pentecost as a holiday, much less celebrated it.

I don’t want to give the impression that my church never talked about the Holy Spirit, just that the Spirit didn’t figure into the gospel story as integrally as we see in Scripture. Christ the Word became flesh and dwelled among us? Check. He died for our sins and rose victoriously from the dead? Check. Enthroned in heaven, he sent the Holy Spirit to empower the church for bold preaching and holy living? Hmm.

I’ve heard it quipped that the disciples Paul encounters in Acts 19 constituted the “First Baptist Church of Ephesus” because they were all baptized by John the Baptist and they had never heard of the Holy Spirit!

At any rate, Paul notices that they seem to be spiritually lacking. We’re never told what tips him off to this. Did they not display the fruit of the Spirit? Were they harsh or prideful? Did their eyes simply glaze over when Paul spoke of deeper spiritual experiences?

Paul begins questioning them about their spiritual journey. When he brings up the Spirit, they say that they don’t know what he’s talking about.

Paul then does what he does best: he proclaims the gospel to them. When their understanding is complete, they are (re-)baptized, and the Holy Spirit comes upon them.


  • What have you been taught about the Holy Spirit’s role in a believer’s life?
  • How does your church celebrate Pentecost?
  • If someone’s experience of the Spirit is deficient, what might they do to change this?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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