This coming Sunday, May 20, is Pentecost, one of God's seven annual holy days and festivals. It is called "Pentecost" (meaning, count fifty) in the New Testament (Acts 2:1) and "the Feast of Weeks" in the Old Testament (Exodus 34:22).
For ancient Israel, it represented the early spring harvest. For the New Testament Church of God it represents the coming of the Holy Spirit and the start of the New Testament Church (Acts 2:1-4).
The Church is a kind of first fruits, not the first of the first fruits, which is Christ, but the first of the harvest of souls among men. This is a small harvest because only a few are called in this church age, in contrast to the many who will be called during the millennium and the white throne judgment.
This is the tie-in between the Old Testament meaning of the day and the New Testament meaning. This day represents an early spring harvest in the Old Testament and the start of the Church of God in the New Testament. And the Church is an early harvest of souls.
The tie-in between Old Testament meaning or explanation and New Testament meaning exists for all the holy days and festivals, but it is more obvious for Pentecost than for some of the other festivals. Even some in traditional churches can see some of the meaning of "first fruits", as applied to the Church, in Pentecost.
Pentecost represents the Church of God. It represents the gift of God's Holy Spirit. It represents the Church as first fruits, a comparatively small early harvest of those God calls. It represents the truth that God is not calling everyone, or even very many, in this age of man.
But Pentecost also represents several important principles and lessons for the Church.
One is the need for preaching the gospel to the world.
That is the first thing Peter and the apostles did on Pentecost after receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:14-42).
Pentecost is the anniversary of the founding of the New Testament Church. And it is also the anniversary of the preaching of the gospel by the Church. The Church, in the person of Peter, began preaching the gospel the same day the Church received the Holy Spirit. It is evident that the Holy Spirit led Peter and the Church to preach the gospel.
Another lesson is the lesson of government.
A significant lesson of Pentecost is that there is a first fruits, an early small harvest, before the main harvest. And this means hierarchy.
God did not design His kingdom to be flat in authority, with every person reporting directly to Christ and no one having greater authority than anyone else.
He could have. God could have planned for everyone in His kingdom to report personally and directly to Christ and to no one else. There would be no requirement for a first resurrection or for anyone to be called in this age. Christ and the angels could rule the millennium, and all who would eventually be saved could come up in one resurrection.
But God did not plan His kingdom that way. He built hierarchical government into His kingdom. There is a first fruits, and they will be in the first resurrection and will have authority over the human race in the millennium.
There will be organization, with some saints having authority over other saints.
David will be king over Israel (Jeremiah 30:9). The apostles will be over the twelve tribes (Matthew 19:28). This means David will have authority over Peter, John, James, and the rest of the twelve apostles in ruling Israel.
And that means, to learn the lessons we need to learn in this life to prepare us for that kingdom, we need to learn to submit to the authority of those God has placed in offices of authority in the Church. It also means that those holding those offices must learn how to rule with justice, compassion, wisdom, and love. "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-13).
"And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues" (1 Corinthians 12:28).
Another lesson is the importance of believing the Bible.
This may not at first seem evident as a lesson of Pentecost.
Peter based his message to the crowds on Pentecost on three things. One was Old Testament scriptures and the things people knew from the scriptures (Acts 2:16-21, 25-28, 34-35). He referred to scripture to make his points. Another was the miracle of tongues, which the crowd had witnessed (Acts 2:4-16). This miracle was a sign from God that backed up the words of Peter and the apostles. A third thing was the eye-witness testimony of Peter and the apostles regarding Jesus Christ - His teachings, His miracles, His murder, and His resurrection (Acts 2:32).
Today, we do not have the eye-witness testimony of living human beings to the events of the Bible, and we do not have apostles or prophets who work public miracles. But we do have the miracle of the Bible.
The Bible is a miracle.
Anyone with an open mind can prove the inspiration of the Bible by its internal consistency and by fulfilled prophecy. We can prove that the Bible is God's word - God speaking.
The principle here is that God backs up His message by miracles. In the days of Peter and the original apostles, speaking in tongues and healings were the miracles to back the message (Acts 3:1-26). Today, it is the Bible itself, which was not complete and widespread in the days of Peter.
God is fair. He requires that we believe what He says, but He does not require that we blindly believe that a message is from Him without proof. He gave the proof in Peter's day by miracles of tongues and healings. He gives us the proof today by the Bible.
And just as Peter used Old Testament scriptures and knowledge and miracles to prove his message, so the Church today must prove its points by the Bible when preaching the gospel. We must give the proof that our message is from God. We can't expect or require that the public take our word for it - "Believe us because we are the true servants of God - the true Church - and this is where God is working". Rather, we must say, as Mr. Armstrong said, "Don't believe me, believe your Bible - believe God".
But herein lies a problem for many COGs that try to preach the gospel. They say this to the world. They say the right thing to the public. But they don't say the same thing to their members. They practice a double standard. They want their members to believe their interpretation of the scriptures rather than what the members can see and prove for themselves from the Bible. In this manner they direct the faith of the members, in matters of doctrine, towards the Church and the ministry rather than towards God and the Bible. They compete with God for the faith of the members.
It is this inconsistency that can cut us off from God's blessing for preaching the gospel.
A test for any Church of God administration is this. Do they teach their members to believe the Bible first, but not to talk about their disagreements with other members?
Just about every COG leader and minister knows that you cannot allow members to promote their pet theories contrary to the doctrines of the Church because that would cause division. So how is that prevented or minimized?
There are two ways. One is to teach the members that they are to believe the doctrines of the ministry, even if they do not see it themselves in the Bible. Many COGs take this approach.
And if that approach is followed, it certainly helps to build organizational unity and loyalty, but it does not build faith in God, and it does not help to preach the gospel.
The other approach is to direct the faith of the members toward God and His word, the Bible, in all matters of doctrine. Members are to believe what they see in their own Bibles. But if they disagree with the Church in some matter, they should not discuss it with others, except with the ministry.
This approach does not cause division. It promotes peace and unity in the Church. It teaches respect and obedience towards the ministry. It creates consistency between what we tell the public and what we practice among ourselves, and that consistency will enable God to bless our efforts to preach the gospel to the world.
Pentecost is all about the Church of God. It includes lessons about how the Church should conduct itself, in practicing hierarchical government and respecting the ministry, in putting God and His word the Bible first in matters of doctrine and faith, and in preaching the gospel to the world.