Pentecost is the fiftieth day since Easter Sunday. The first one just happened to be on a Jewish festival that celebrated the harvest and the giving of the law to Moses on Mt. Sinai, so Jerusalem was probably filled with pilgrims and partiers. The party part is important because when a bunch of Galileans started speaking about the great deeds of God in multiple languages, the scoffers scoffed that they were just drunk. Being that it was only nine in the morning, the implication was that they were on an all night bender.
Peter assured them that this was not the meaningless babble of the overly beveraged, and when folks from around the Jewish world heard proclamations in their native languages, some began to realize that God was up to something.
Something is going on in Fountain Hills too, but I am pretty sure it is not God’s doing. Eight congregations are uniting by placing large banners on their property declaring, “Progressive Christianity: Fact or Fiction?” The pastors are all preaching on the same subjects for several weeks to, as one of the pastor’s explained, help people distinguish between “true biblical Christianity and progressive Christianity.”
It is hard not to see this as a direct assault on Pastor David Felton of The Fountains Methodist Church in that he was written a book on Progressive Christianity and is the co-author of the “Living the Questions” series done here at Esperanza several times.
First of all, I am bewildered by the language: true biblical Christianity. Is there an untrue biblical Christianity or a true unbiblical Christianity? Is it all or nothing? And while I am not exactly sure what the eight pastors understand Progressive Christianity to be. Religion Professor James McGrath of Butler University uses this definition: “Progressive Christianity is a broad tradition, encompassing all forms of Christianity which honestly acknowledge that being a Christian is not merely about preserving things from the past, but innovating, revising, reforming, and creatively engaging with the present as well.”
I don’t have a problem with that. In fact, I think the Pentecost lesson is not so much about people speaking or hearing languages as it is the message of the gospel being a language that each of us hears in their own way. And it is not as if there is a right or wrong way to “hear” it, it is something that changes and develops over time if we are open to the changes.
Our culture presses us to eliminate ambiguity; we want to know what is right and what is wrong, or in the words of the eight congregations in Fountain Hills, what is faction and what is fictitious. Spirituality however, is not a polemic of fact against fiction, it is something much deeper than that.
Here is a prayer by J. Philip Newell from his book, “Celtic Benediction:”
May the light of God illumine the heart of my soul.
May the flame of Christ kindle me to love.
May the fire of the Spirit free me to live this day, tonight and for ever.