Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Meaning of Pentecost

This coming Sunday is Pentecost for the Church of God.

The Gift of the Holy Spirit and the Spiritual Law of God

Pentecost is ordained by God in the Old Testament, often called the "Feast of Weeks" (Exodus 34:22, Deuteronomy 16:16). It is called Pentecost in the New Testament (Acts 2:1. Acts 20:16, 1 Corinthians 16:8). It was on the day of Pentecost that the Holy Spirit was given to the New Testament Church of God (Acts 2:1-4). Thus, this day represents for us the gift of the Holy Spirit. And since the Church of God is the collective body of everyone who has God's Holy Spirit dwelling in their minds, Pentecost also represents the start of the New Testament Church of God.

Pentecost also may represent the spiritual law of God. I have heard that Jewish tradition indicates that the ten commandments were given on the day of Pentecost. Under the terms of the New Covenant, God promises to write His spiritual law in our hearts and minds (Jeremiah 31:33), and this is done by God through the power of His Spirit. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would help us remember the things He said and teach us spiritual truth. And it is the Holy Spirit, first given to the New Testament Church on Pentecost, that enables us to understand the spiritual truths of God (John 14:26, 1 Corinthians 2:9-12).

The Holy Spirit also empowers us to overcome our sins. "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7). "For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God" (Romans 8:13-14). The Holy Spirit is the power by which God and Christ live in us (John 14:15-18, Galatians 2:20, Romans 8:9-11).

The Beginning of the Church of God

It is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit that defines a true Christian and a truly converted member of the Church of God and the body of Christ (Romans 8:9-11).

In other words, the Church of God is not an organization. The Church of God is organized, but the Church itself is not an organization. It is the collective body of everyone who has the Holy Spirit dwelling in their minds.

I remember hearing Mr. Armstrong talk about this in his radio program. He gave examples. You could have a congregation of one hundred people, and one of them may have the Holy Spirit and the other ninety-nine do not. In that case, he said, the one member of the congregation with the Holy Spirit is a member of the Church of God and the other members of the congregation are not really members of the Church of God. Or, you could have ninety-nine who have God's Spirit and one who does not, and the ninety-nine would be true members of God's Church and the one would not.

And I know from experience living through the time of the apostasy in the Church of God after Mr. Armstrong's death, and many others who lived through that also know, that it can be hard to know from outside observance who has the Holy Spirit and who does not. For there were members and ministers who to me seemed very spiritual, yet they quickly gave up the truth, and I concluded later that many of those I thought were spiritual were probably never really converted.

God Is Not a Trinity

It was the Holy Spirit that caused Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, to become pregnant with Jesus. It was God the Father who impregnated Mary and He did it by the power of His Holy Spirit (Luke 1:26-35). This can easily be proved in scripture and helps to prove that the trinity doctrine is wrong. For if the Holy Spirit is a person, then the Holy Spirit, not the One we know of as the Father, was the father of Jesus Christ, for it was the Holy Spirit that impregnated Mary. But if God the Father was the Father of Jesus Christ, then the Father impregnated Mary by the power of His Spirit working in her body. In that case, the Holy Spirit is the power of God, not a person, which is what the Church of God has always taught.

The Jews knew from the Old Testament scriptures that God has a Spirit, for many Old Testament scriptures refer to the "Spirit of God" (Genesis 1:2, Job 33:4, Ezekiel 11:24), and David referred to God's Holy Spirit (Psalm 51:11). But they never thought of God's Spirit as being a person, and there is not a shred of evidence in the New Testament that Jesus or the Church of God changed or contradicted the understanding of the Jews that the Holy Spirit is the power of God, nor is there any shred of evidence that this was a controversy between the Church and the Jews, which it would have been if the Church taught that the Holy Spirit was a person who was God.

The very verse that many in traditional churches try to use to "prove" the trinity doctrine actually serves as evidence that the trinity doctrine is wrong. If you look up (1 John 5:7-8), you will find this in many Bibles: "For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one". But footnotes in many or most Bibles indicate this part was added later and not part of the original text: "in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth". When you take that part out, the Bible really says, "For there are three that bear witness: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one". So this does not prove the trinity doctrine at all. But why do I say it serves as evidence that the trinity doctrine is false? Because it shows that some in the early church added those words to try to support their case for the trinity doctrine. Why would they do that if the trinity doctrine were not a controversy? And why would it be a controversy unless the earlier Church did not support the trinity doctrine? And why would the early Church of God not support the trinity doctrine if it were true and taught by Christ to the Church? The answer that explains these added words is that the trinity doctrine is false, Christ did not teach the trinity to the Church of God, and the Church of God in the beginning never taught or supported the trinity doctrine, but as apostasy and heresy in many doctrines crept into the Church of God organizations, so did the false trinity doctrine, and this became a controversy so that some felt the need to support the trinity doctrine by changing the Bible to support their case.

Sons of God

The Holy Spirit in a sense begets us to spiritual life. It is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that makes us true Christians and true sons and daughters of God and brothers of Jesus Christ. Mr. Armstrong used the analogy of human conception and birth to explain the process. After repentance and faith, we are to be baptized (Acts 2:38, Acts 8:34-40). After baptism, hands are laid on us by the minister (Acts 8:14-17, Acts 19:5-7). God then gives us the gift of His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit unites in some way with our human spirit (Job 32:8, 1 Corinthians 2:10-12, Romans 8:14-17), and the result is that we become a son of God, but not yet born into God's kingdom. Mr. Armstrong compared that with the uniting of a human sperm cell with a human egg cell in the womb of a mother. At this point, we become, in the comparison, like an fetus or embryo, conceived, but not yet born. Then in the resurrection into the kingdom at the return of Christ, we fully receive immortality and become full sons of God, and this can be compared to human birth. Thus Mr. Armstrong taught that we are not yet "born again" but will be born again in the first resurrection.

As Mr. Armstrong worded it, we are now "begotten" of God, but not yet born of God.

Some may have questions about that word "begotten". Some have said that "begotten" refers to the same event as birth, but from the perspective of the father of the child. In other words, some have said that the word "beget" refers to the father's role when the child is born. On the day a son is born, the mother gives "birth" to the child and the father "begets" the child, but the father is not said to have begotten the child before it is born. Before it is born, the child is "conceived", not "begotten", in this view.

I have not studied the meaning of the English words, "beget" or "begotten", nor the Greek or Hebrew words that are thus translated in the Bible. But words can mean different things to different people. To Mr. Armstrong, and in most of the Church of God today, the word "begotten" in this context means "conceived". That is how he used the word.

So when Mr. Armstrong said that upon receiving the Holy Spirit we become "begotten" of God and are not yet born of God till the resurrection, and when he compared this to human reproduction as an analogy to make the process clear, his analogy is correct even if he used the term "begotten" in a different sense than some outside the Church. If it makes it more clear, you can say that we are "conceived" now and will be born at the resurrection, because it is conception that Mr. Armstrong was talking about when he used the word begotten. To Mr. Armstrong, begettal and conception were the same thing, if I understood him correctly. But it doesn't change the analogy, whatever term you use. The analogy is correct. Our state at this time is like an unborn child in the womb of its mother. In this analogy, the Church can be compared to a mother protecting and nurturing her unborn child as the Church protects and nurtures its members. Then, in the resurrection, we will be like children fully born, no longer in the womb. That analogy that Mr. Armstrong used is a beautiful picture of the process of how God is reproducing Himself in us.

Government in the Church and Counting to Pentecost

Some members are curious about how to count Pentecost. We count fifty from the day that the wave sheaf offering was made according to God's instructions to ancient Israel, and that fifty is inclusive, so as the wave sheaf offering was made on a Sunday, Pentecost will be on a Sunday fifty days later. The Church of God does not observe a wave sheaf ceremony today since there was no day of rest or assembly commanded and we are not under the sacrificial system that God gave to Israel, but we use it to determine when Pentecost is. The wave sheaf offering was usually made the day after the weekly Sabbath that falls during the Days of Unleavened Bread, and the wave sheaf offering, on a Sunday, also fell within the seven days of unleavened bread. But sometimes the weekly Sabbath falls on the last day of unleavened bread. In that case, you can't have both the Sabbath before the wave sheaf Sunday and the wave sheaf Sunday itself both during the days of unleavened bread. Either you use the Sabbath before unleavened bread and the Sunday that follows that is on the first day of unleavened bread as the wave sheaf Sunday to begin counting for Pentecost, or you use the Sabbath during unleavened bread and the Sunday that follows but is after the days of unleavened bread as the wave sheaf Sunday. Most years this does not happen, but when it does, it presents a controversy with some in the Church of God. Most Church of God fellowships follow Mr. Armstrong's judgment that we go by the Sunday that falls during unleavened bread as the wave sheaf offering to begin counting for Pentecost. But some in one or more other groups say we should use the Sabbath that falls during unleavened bread and the Sunday after that even when the Sunday is outside of unleavened bread. Thus, in some years, there is a difference of opinion that cause some to observe Pentecost on a different day than the majority of the Church.

I have only done a limited study of this, but as far as I can see, I agree with Mr. Armstrong. In any case, this controversy or difference of opinion does not exist in the Church of God this year. This year, both the Sabbath and the wave sheaf Sunday that follows that Sabbath fell within the days of unleavened bread.

One thing I have realized is that judgment is required in this matter. God has given us the instructions in the Bible in a way that requires some judgment to understand and decide. Someone must make the call, and this is more true I think with Pentecost than with any other holy day or any other calendar issue. Since it is evident that God used Mr. Armstrong in a powerful way, and Mr. Armstrong made the judgment call that we count from the Sunday that falls during unleavened bread, and there is nothing clear in the Bible that overturns this judgment, I believe the majority in the Church of God who follow Mr. Armstrong's judgment is right.

God could have made the instructions in the Bible so clear that no judgment would be required. He could have inspired the Bible to say, "count fifty from the wave sheaf offering during the days of unleavened bread", or "count fifty from the wave sheaf offering that follows the weekly Sabbath that falls during the days of unleavened bread", or something even more clear. But God did not inspire the account that way. Instead, He gave us instructions that leave enough question in the minds of some people to require that someone in authority make a judgment call.

And this is fitting. Why? Because Pentecost represents the first fruits, and by its very nature it represents hierarchical government. It also represents the Church of God, and there must be government in the Church. In the very passage where Christ says He will build His Church He talks about government: "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:18-19).

Pentecost represents government in the Church. First of all, you need government to establish when Pentecost is. Someone has to make a judgment call, based on the Bible, to decide if it is the Sunday during unleavened bread or the weekly Sabbath during unleavened bread that is the important factor in determining when the wave sheaf offering was and when to start the count to Pentecost. These things can be determined from the Bible, but you have to put scriptures together correctly, and there is enough study required that it is almost inevitable that some will have different opinions. Mr. Armstrong studied this issue in the Bible, and he made a judgment call based on what he saw in the Bible, and there is nothing in the Bible that clearly indicates his judgment is wrong. Most of the Church of God leaders today agree with that judgment, and I agree with it. Those who disagree have no clear case I can see for overturning that judgment.

But also, Pentecost represents government because the fact that there are first fruits, a first resurrection and a later resurrection, mandates hierarchy in the Kingdom of God. If there was no hierarchical government in the Kingdom of God, we would not need to have first fruits or a first resurrection. We would not even need a Church today. Christ could return at the end of six thousand years to establish the Kingdom of God, and by His infinite power do everything directly Himself, perhaps with the help of angels. Then after the general resurrection when the majority of mankind comes up and has the opportunity to be converted, all mankind who are given eternal life in the Kingdom of God can be changed at the same time, and we would all be equal. No one would be under anyone's authority except the authority of God and Christ directly.

But Christ will not rule the earth by Himself. We in the Church will be given offices of responsibility and authority. "And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations—'He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels'—as I also have received from My Father; and I will give him the morning star" (Revelation 2:26-28). "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne" (Revelation 3:21). Our struggle against sin is harder because we have to overcome Satan, and our reward will be greater. Those converted in the general resurrection will not have Satan to overcome because Satan will be put away, and they will have an easier struggle, but their reward will not be as great.

But we have to learn the lessons of government now. That is why Christ gave the ministry in the Church of God certain authority to make binding decisions. The authority is limited to a certain scope of decisions. Ministers for example have no authority to command us to break the ten commandments. But within a certain scope of responsibility, the ministry has authority to decide some things, and their authority is from God and it is real. And part of our training for the Kingdom of God is to learn to respect and support that authority now, knowing where that authority came from (Romans 13:1-2, Ephesians 4:11-16, 1 Corinthians 12:27-30).

All Will Have a Chance for Salvation

Pentecost also helps to teach us and remind us that those who are Christians in this age are only the first fruits of God's spiritual harvest. The greater spiritual harvest will occur after the return of Jesus Christ during the millennium and the white throne judgment. That means that, contrary to the teaching of many traditional churches today, all humanity will have the opportunity to hear the true gospel and be saved. In this age, only those called by God and drawn to Christ can have their eyes opened to the truth and be able to repent and be converted (John 6:44). But the rest are not permanently lost. No one will lose out on the opportunity for salvation because circumstance of birth - circumstances of time and location - prevent that person from hearing the true gospel. No one will lose out on the opportunity for salvation because Satan has blinded them to the truth and God has not called them, opened their eyes, and drawn them to Christ.

Many in the world do not understand how an all-powerful and loving God could allow billions to live and die with no chance for salvation. This is a stumbling block to many, yet God has revealed the truth, that no one will lose out on salvation because of the circumstances of their birth and life in this age, to us in the Church. He has revealed this through His holy days and festivals, and it is to us in the Church who believe and obey God by keeping His holy days that God has revealed this truth.

This truth is most powerfully represented by the Last Great Day and by the Feast of Tabernacles, but Pentecost is also a reminder of this, for Pentecost teaches us that the Church today is only the first fruits, and if first fruits then there must be other fruits, a greater harvest, to come.

Preaching the Gospel

Most members know that Pentecost represents the gift of the Holy Spirit and the start of the New Testament Church of God.

But if you look at the example of the very day of Pentecost in Acts when the Holy Spirit was given and the Church of God began, you may notice something else.

"When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven....But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, 'Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: "And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams"....Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know—Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it....Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.' Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?' Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.' And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, 'Be saved from this perverse generation.' Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them" (Acts 2:1-5, 14-17, 22-24, 36-41).

The first thing Peter and the other apostles did after they received the Holy Spirit was to PREACH THE GOSPEL!

And their preaching bore fruit. About 3,000 members were added to the Church of God that very day.

Of all the holy days and festivals, the one that best represents preaching the gospel to the world is Pentecost.

The Church of God did not wait. They did not say, "Well, we just received the Holy Spirit and we still have faults to overcome, so let's wait a while and grow in grace and knowledge and let the Holy Spirit work in our minds to help us overcome our sins for a year or two, and then we will be ready to preach to the world." Within hours of receiving the Holy Spirit, at most, they began to preach the gospel, and God blessed their efforts.

A few weeks previously, all the apostles left Jesus Christ in His time of trial (Matthew 26:55-56), and Peter, the very one who first preached to the crowds on Pentecost, denied Christ (Matthew 26:69-75). They certainly had human faults, and it is unlikely they overcame their faults in just an hour. But that did not stop them from preaching the gospel to the world as soon as they were converted.

Though newly converted, they were more diligent to obey God's will and word than many today who claim to be long-time members of God's Church.

It is not surprising that the first thing that the apostles did after receiving the Holy Spirit was to preach the gospel to the world, because God's Spirit is a Spirit of love (2 Timothy 1:7), and love motivates us to share the truth with others for their own good.

What Pentecost Represents

What does the day of Pentecost represent?

It represents the gift of the Holy Spirit.

It represents the spiritual law of God written in our hearts and minds by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

It represents the power to understand spiritual truth and to overcome our sins that God gives us through the Holy Spirit.

It represents the start of the Church of God.

It represents the Holy Spirit and the knowledge we in the Church of God have that the Holy Spirit is the power of God and not a third person of a trinity.

It represents our spiritual begettal by the Holy Spirit and God's plan and process for reproducing Himself in man, and it represents how we become sons and daughters of God and brothers of Jesus Christ. Pentecost represents the first stage of that process, and the Day of Trumpets represents the last stage of that process when we are made full sons of God in the first resurrection.

It represents government, both now in the Church of God and later in the Kingdom of God.

It reminds us and teaches us, along with the Last Great Day and the Feast of Tabernacles, that God is fair and just and merciful to give everyone who has ever been born a chance for salvation.

It represents preaching the gospel to the world and making disciples of all nations.

These truths that we understand in the Church of God - the nature and role of the Holy Spirit, the spiritual law of God, how the Church of God started and what the Church of God is, God's plan and process for reproducing Himself in mankind, government in the Church of God and the Kingdom of God, and the need for the Church to preach the gospel to the world - are all associated with the Day of Pentecost in the Bible either directly or indirectly. The keeping of Pentecost, and the studying of the scriptures about Pentecost, the Holy Spirit, and the Church of God all help us to understand and remember these truths.

Here are links to other posts in this blog related to the material in this post:

"A Stumbling Block - The Fate of the Billions Who Never Heard of Christ", dated May 21, 2008, link:

"Why God Is Not Trying to Save Everyone Now", dated October 26, 2008, link:

"God Is Not Trying to Save Everyone in this Age", dated November 8, 2008, link:

"Pentecost is Unique", dated June 7, 2011, link:

"Pentecost Should Remind Us to Be Thankful", dated June 9, 2011, link:

"Pentecost Helps Us Understand What the True Church Is", dated May 14, 2013, link:

"Pentecost Teaches Hierarchy", dated May 15, 2013, link:

"Lack of Controversy about Holy Spirit in New Testament Text - What That Tells Us", dated May 16, 2013, link:

"We Need the Holy Spirit to Overcome Our Sins", dated May 17, 2013, link:

"We Must Do Our Part to Build God's Church", dated May 18, 2013, link:

"The Subject of Pentecost Is an Opportunity for Preaching the Gospel to the World", dated May 21, 2013, link:

"Pentecost: Stirring Up the Holy Spirit / How the Holy Spirit Leads the Church and Us Individually in Doctrine, Policy, and Decisions", dated June 5, 2014, link:

"Pentecost Is a Memorial of Preaching the Gospel", dated June 12, 2014, link:

"Our Calling Opens Our Minds to the Truth / Persecution", dated April 24, 2015, link:

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:

Pentecost - the Gift of the Holy Spirit, Chapter 2

The Holy Spirit, Chapter 2

God's Purpose for Mankind, Chapter 2




Editor said...

dear author, it is not my itention to be critical here so please do not take it that way--however, you are in error with this statement. "The wave sheaf offering was usually made the day after the weekly Sabbath that falls during the Days of Unleavened Bread,--"
If you will go back and look at those passages it is the "morrow after the Sabbath" that must be during the days. God is never inconsistent on this, though some want to teach that He sometimes is. the Sabbath is never counted from--it is always the morrow after the Sabbth. for more on this you are welcome to visit the Bible study titled "Wave Sheaf Day" at www.tcogmso.net, where this is thoroughly explained according to Scripture.
The Editor

author@ptgbook.org said...

I agree, Editor, which is why I said "usually", because usually, that is, in MOST (but not all) years, both the weekly Sabbath and the "morrow after the Sabbath" BOTH fall during the days of unleavened bread, as they did this year.

So most years it does not make any difference. But some years it does, and it is in those years that one must understand if we are counting from the "morrow after the Sabbath" that falls during unleavened bread (the "morrow" falls within unleavened bread) or the morrow after the "Sabbath that falls during unleavened bread.

I first wanted to establish the general case when there is no disagreement before discussing the particular differences of opinion that cause controversy.

Editor said...

My apologies if I have misunderstood your intent. too many today are mis-applying the Scriptures on this subject, without the realization Christ fulfilled the wave sheaf offering when he went to the Father, thus sealing for us it is always the sunday during the days we count from.That offering specifically pointed to Christ going to the Father for acceptance, as HWA explained. again sorry for the misunderstanding, as I was going by your wording; "the weekly Sabbath that falls during the Days of Unleavened Bread,--" because this is what some are teaching.

author@ptgbook.org said...

No problem. It is an easy thing to misunderstand, and maybe I should have worded that part of my post more clearly.

Thanks for commenting.

Anonymous said...

Author, you wrote: "...But if you look at the example of the very day of Pentecost in Acts when the Holy Spirit was given and the Church of God began, you may notice something else..."

I know you share that opinion with perhaps most xcogs, but God's Church did not begin on Pentecost.

Jesus Christ has the preeminence in God's Church and Jesus Christ was/is the First of the Firstfruits to be sealed by God the Father and it occurred several years earlier on the day He was baptized and God's Spirit entered Him and remained within Him from that time henceforth.

In reality, on Pentecost God sealed more individuals, who were as a result ADDED to God's Church, but Jesus Christ was the first member of God's Church and remains its Head to this very day. The rest of the Body is composed of by the rest of the sealed Firstfruits.

You correctly responded about the wave sheaf offering with mentioning emphasis must be on the "morrow" during the days of unleavened bread.

The wave sheaf is all about how Jesus Christ became the First of the Firstfruits.

In the count to Pentecost, the 7 weeks, represent 49 days, and represent the "7 Churches" mentioned in Revelation 1 and 2, but Jesus Christ is part of the Firstfruits: the First One.

Hence 1 + 49 = 50 for the count.