Pentecost, the season
of the Holy Spirit, is otherwise known as the "birthday of the church."
In theory, Pentecost should be recognized, along with Christmas and Easter, as
one of the three most important holidays of the Christian Church. Here's why.
Where the term "Pentecost" comes from
Pentecost (or "the 50th day" in ancient Greek) is a holiday of Christianity
commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, fifty days after
the resurrection. (In the UK, it is referred to as Whitsunday, because of the
white robes traditionally worn this day by those newly baptized.)
The Christian holiday also derives from the Hebrew celebration, Shavuot, which
was held 50 days after Passover and was associated with the first harvest of grain
in the spring. The Jewish holiday, also referred to in the Bible as "the
feast of weeks," came to be identified with the revelation on Mt. Sinai when
Moses received the Ten Commandments. It may also reflect still older, pagan festivals
celebrating the return of life to nature following the "death" of winter.
Given the importance of Passover, the Sinai tradition and the spring harvest festivals
to both Jews and early Christians, one begins to understand the significance of
Why is Pentecost so important for Christians?
It is connected to Christianity's central image of God as Trinity. Over many centuries
Christians have come to understand God in three ways. First, as God the Creator
in nature; second, as the Son, in the story of the life, death and resurrection
of Jesus; and finally, as Spirit. The Spirit represents God as living and active
in the world today. It signifies the fact that the Christian faith is not just
about events that happened in the past, rather it concerns the present and the
future. The Spirit is God's animating presence in the church, and indeed, in life
itself. Hence, without its Spirit, the church is dead, and without the Spirit,
all that is creative and wonderful in life itself ceases to exist.
Is there is a difference between celebrating Pentecost and Pentecostalism?
You bet. As we have seen, Pentecost is an important holiday for
nearly all Christian denominations. Pentecostalism, on the other hand, is a movement
within Christianity that has resulted in the creation of, according to some estimates,
11,000 different denominations around the world.
If you want to talk with someone in person, please feel free to call 212-864-5436
The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.