Barriers Broken by Pentecost
By Certified Church Consultant, Dan Abbatiello
It is clear that we live in a divided and fragmented culture, where there no longer exists even a general consensus on societal norms, or even what is right or wrong. Unfortunately, various kinds of division have also crept into the church – maskers versus non-maskers, vaxers versus non-vaxers, Trumpers versus never-Trumpers, all these and many more have fueled the fire of division serving only to weaken the potency of our witness.
Unfortunately, division is nothing new. The first century culture was every bit as divided as today’s culture. There were divisions between ethnic groups such as the Jews, the Samaritans, the Greeks, the Romans and the Syrophoenicians. There were divisions between men and women, children and adults, the religious and heathen, idolaters, pagans, sinner and righteous, clean and unclean. There were religio-political groups such as the Pharisees (conservatives), Sadducees (liberals), the Herodians (Rome supporters), the Zealots (anti-Rome) and the Essenes (total separatists). Even in the early church there arose a division between the Hebrew speaking Jewish women and the Greek speaking Jewish women (Acts 6). The Corinthian church also developed divisions – some identifying as “I am of Paul, I of Apollos, I of Cephas and I of Christ” (1 Corinthians 1).
Jesus said, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand” (Matthew 12:25). It is clear that without unity the church will be powerless to accomplish the mission with which we have been entrusted. So, how do we respond to the culture around us and our own tendency to divide? How can the church unite to bring about authentic ministry which enables us to do and be all that God intends for us to do and be?
Christian leaders must refocus on the mission before us by pursuing a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost opened the door for authentic Christian unity and ministry. Additionally, we must realize that barriers are broken by the intentional cooperation with the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).
In Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 he lists a variety of common barriers that must be broken in order for us to accomplish our mission. First the religio-ethnic barrier must be broken (Acts 2:17a). Peter quoting the Prophet Joel says “I will pour out my Spirit on ALL mankind…” Often, in today’s world, religious affiliation is drawn along ethnic lines. If you are Italian, you are supposed to be Roman Catholic. If you are a German, you must be Lutheran. If you are Chinese, you must be Buddhist. If you are Hebrew, you must be Jewish; if you are Indian, you must be Hindu; if you are Iranian, you must be a Muslim. However, the power of the Spirit breaks religio-ethnic barriers and creates a new family, the family of God.
Secondly, the gender barrier must be broken. (Acts 2:17b). Peter said, “Your sons and daughters…” This was especially significant in the first century, Middle Eastern, patriarchal context, but just as significant today. Women must not be viewed as second-class citizens in God’s economy. Women are featured prominently in the New Testament. Women such as Mary, the mother of Jesus, Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, Mary and Martha of Bethany, Dorcas in Acts 9, Priscilla, a teacher of the scripture, Lydia a businesswoman, Philip’s four prophetess daughters (Acts 21:9) and let’s not forget that women were the first to the tomb of Jesus.
Thirdly, the age barrier must be broken (Acts 2:17c). Peter said, “Young men… and old men…” Samuel was a young boy when he heard the word of the Lord; David killed Goliath when just a lad, Josiah became king at age 8, Jehoash at age 7. However, Caleb at age 80 declared, “Give me that mountain…” (Joshua 14:12-15).
Fourth, the social class barrier must be broken (Acts 2:18a). “On your bond-slaves…” No class is excluded from God’s call. Luke was a doctor, Peter a fisherman, Paul, a “PHD” lawyer, Matthew was a tax collector and Lydia was a businesswoman (Acts 16).
Lastly, it is clear that Pentecost must break down the clergy/laity barrier (Acts 2:18b). It is God’s desire that all respond to the call of God and fulfill the mission to which they are called. Peter said in his epistle that we are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and proclaimers of the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).
Jesus prayed, “…that they may all be one… so that the world may believe…” (John 17:21). Jesus died for all regardless of societal barriers or groupings, and it will take the power of the Spirit to overcome our personal prejudices and biases. Let us examine ourselves and allow the Spirit to point out and melt away the barriers that separate us and refocus on our mission to reach all with the gospel that whosoever may come.