Before his Ascension, Jesus promised that God the Father would send the Holy Spirit to teach and remind the disciples of all that Jesus had taught them. On the surface, this passage from Acts seems to be pretty straightforward. The Holy Spirit entered the hearts and minds of those present, giving them the power and strength to spread the Good News of salvation through Christ. Furthermore, we know from the writings of the Apostle Paul that this same Holy Spirit remains active today. Martin Luther reminds us in the Small Catechism: “the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”
Peter stood up and boldly proclaimed that the Crucified Christ was in fact the long-awaited Messiah. He shared with the crowd what he and the other disciples understood about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. More people came to believe and over 3,000 converts were baptized upon hearing Peter’s words – which they heard in their own native language.
Pretty simple, straightforward stuff, huh? I ask this question with all sincerity: could it be that the story of Pentecost is also God’s way of reminding us that He speaks a variety of languages? By this I mean, does God speak Lutheran as well as Catholic? Presbyterian as well as Baptist? Episcopal as well as Methodist? Russian as well as Greek Orthodox? Contemporary as well as Traditional?
All Christians who confess their faith using the Apostles Creed believe in the “holy catholic (universal) church.” The church is the body of Christ. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14) And Christ is the head of the Church. (Colossians 1:18)
Shouldn’t our unity in this shared confession be the focus of our ministry and not the various “traditions” and “interpretations” of what is right and proper with regard to how we worship? Baptism is commanded by Scripture, but Scripture reflects the practice of both adult and infant baptism. Nowhere does Scripture command complete immersion, nor does it forbid “sprinkling.” The Lord instituted the Eucharist on the night in which he was betrayed, but he did not specify what kind of wine or bread was to be used. The Psalms exhort us to make a joyful noise, but remain silent on how and exactly what to sing . . . .
As a Lutheran, I fall back on Martin Luther’s understanding of “adiaphora” – those things neither commanded nor forbidden by Scripture. Article 7 of the Augsburg Confession expands on the concept: “For this is enough for the true unity of the Christian church that the gospel is preached harmoniously according to a pure understanding and the sacraments are administered in conformity with the divine Word. It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that uniform ceremonies, instituted by human beings, be observed everywhere.” [emphasis added] There is a distinction between what is essential, Word and Sacrament, and what is beneficial and helpful.
Perhaps there is such a wide variety of worship styles and practices because God designed it that way. He has created all of us in His image, yet has hand-crafted each one of us as an individual masterpiece. Our lives are uniquely suited to fulfill God’s plan. The language of our heart begins with the understanding of God as our Father, Christ as our Savior, and the Spirit as our Helper. Shouldn’t it end there as well? If we allow for God to speak a variety of languages, languages of the heart, perhaps we can live in harmony and mutual respect as one body with Christ as the head.
Father, creator of all, fill our hearts and minds with the truth that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Let us remember to love you with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
In any language, God Loves You!