The Birthday of the Church

All of us have birthdays, though some of us are more enthusiastic about celebrating them than others. Individual congregations have birthdays, too. In the case of First Baptist Church of Portland, we were constituted as a congregation on May 6, 1855, which made us 162 years old last month. But what is the birthday of the Church Universal?

Some might say Christmas, because that’s when we celebrate the coming of the Savior into the world, the creative Word of God “made flesh” (John 1:14). Some might say Easter, because that’s when Christ was raised from the dead, the “first fruits of those who have died” (1 Corinthians 15:20), bringing with him the promise of life everlasting for those who belong to him. But I would like to suggest that the day of Pentecost is the birthday of the Church in the fullest sense. Why do I say this? Because on the day of Pentecost (a Jewish festival celebrated seven weeks after Passover), the Spirit of the Risen Christ came to accompany the believers, to guide their witness and to bring power and holiness to their life together. And the Church as a supernatural unity, continuing Christ’s presence and mission in the world, was born.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”  
(Acts 2: 1–4)

What does the Holy Spirit bring to believers? First of all, the Spirit brings the presence of the risen Christ. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you” (John 14:18). Christ continues to accompany us today, both as individual believers and as the supernatural Body of Believers. “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). Then, the Spirit gives us the power to communicate, as he did on that extraordinary day in Jerusalem when thousands of pilgrims heard the story of Jesus in their own languages, and as he does today in our own multilingual congregation. Furthermore, the Spirit gives us gifts — ordinary and extraordinary capacities for carrying out Christ’s mission in the world (1 Corinthians 12: 4–11). And the Spirit brings fruit into our lives — virtues such as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5: 22–23) — to lead us into holy living which makes Christ present in the world.

Around the globe millions of Christians are part of the modern-day Pentecostal movement, which has brought the power and gifts of the Spirit to the forefront of the Church’s life and witness in the last century. Baptists and many traditional Protestants have often been wary of this Holy Spirit renewal of the Church. We feel uncomfortable with its emotional excesses and its challenge to our rational, Word-based faith. But when the power of the Spirit serves and commends the truth of the Word, and when we as believers experience a profound unity and a holy boldness in and through the Spirit’s presence, the Church is truly the Church.

This year we celebrate Pentecost on Sunday, June 4. Our English and Cambodian language congregations will worship together, and we will greet one another and proclaim Christ’s lordship in every language spoken by members of our congregation. And we will say, “Happy Birthday, Church. And may you be what Christ has called you
to be.”

And by the way, at the end of this Pentecost month, we will have the opportunity to praise God in the company of representatives of the 80 churches of the American Baptist Churches of the Central Pacific Coast at our regional meeting here at First Baptist Church June 28-29, and in the company of representatives of more than 5000 American Baptist Churches from across our nation and international missionaries from around the globe at the Oregon Convention Center June 30–July 2. Pentecost will come to life! See registration information at: www.abc-usa.org/coordinatedcalendar/event-registration.

— Dr. David L. Wheeler