On the Day of Pentecost, God poured out the Holy Spirit to unite people to Christ and to one another.
Today in India, trolling is toxic on Twitter, “thought leaders” break into fits of rage on nightly news shows, and families are feuding on WhatsApp over disinformation.
There are deep divisions in India along religious, political, and social lines. In such a time as this, what can the church be for India that the country cannot seem to be for itself? A divided India urgently needs a united church.
If you could ask God for anything for the church in India, what would you ask him to give? For Jesus, the answer is unity. He wants Christians to be as united with one another as he is with the Father. He wants this so the world will believe that God has sent him (John 17:20-21).
A divided church will only deepen the chasm between God and a cynical world. Only a united church can be the jaw-dropping, heart-lifting, mind-boggling sight for sore eyes that a divided nation needs.
What if the church in India sought earnestly to be the answer to Jesus’s prayer, not the reason for it?
The Centrality of Unity
On the Day of Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit miraculously brought diverse people into unity with one another. Even today the Holy Spirit is working to give Jesus the church he wants.
His work of bringing unity runs through the New Testament. It reaches its glorious end when people of every tribe and every nation will worship God in Christ (Rev. 7:9-10).
Some of the gospel is easy for Christians to receive. It unites rebellious people to God through the one mediator, “the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). God’s enemies become his children and his foes become his friends. It is a miracle of grace.
The Lord has brought us into unity with himself. But scandalously he wants to bring us into unity with our cultural adversaries too.
What is not as easily received in India is how the gospel unites warring people to one another through Christ.
Imagine if an audience of nationalistic people heard these words: “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6, emphasis added).
The Lord has brought us into unity with himself. But scandalously he wants to bring us into unity with our cultural adversaries too. He wants to see warring tribes turn into allies, racist suspicions melt into trusting partnerships, and historic foes turn into eternal family. He thinks this will be compelling evidence for the world to believe that Christ is Lord.
The Tendency to Resist the Holy Spirit
On the Day of Pentecost, witnesses to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit responded in two sharply distinct ways—curiosity and cynicism.
“And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another ‘What does this mean?’” (Acts 2:12).
Some people mockingly said, “They are filled with new wine” (Acts 2:13).
The curious were asking questions. The cynical jumped to conclusions.
Divisions deepen when people prefer mocking to curiosity, quick conclusions to thoughtful questions, and troll the messenger instead of trying to comprehend the message. It is how we tend to resist the Holy Spirit’s work of creating unity.
The ministry of the Holy Spirit is the most culturally inclusive work in human history.
Curiosity is a slow, carefully considered posture that begins with openness and eagerness to learn. Cynicism is a quick, short-sighted position that wants to protect its own bias. The cynical spirit is a divisive one. The curious heart makes way for unity.
The gift of tongues is desirable but unity is far more desirable and essential. The deep desire of the Holy Spirit is unity and his great work in our hearts is to soften them, to quieten them, to kill a mocking spirit, and to create curiosity—to make us quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:19).
The Spectacular and the Deep Work of the Holy Spirit
In all the beautiful noise of the Day of Pentecost one little sentence whispers the true power of the Holy Spirit. Eye-witnesses on that day said, “we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11, emphasis added).
The ministry of the Holy Spirit is the most culturally inclusive work in human history. He is actively working to answer Jesus’s prayer.
On the Day of Pentecost, Jewish people speaking different languages drawing together in unity. But the unity-treasuring ministry of the Holy Spirit was just beginning.
Peter, who is explaining this event, himself does not fully comprehend the extent of God’s desire for unity.
Later, when God commands him to go to the house of a “God-fearing man” (Acts 10), his racial, moral, and religious superiority is exposed. He cannot believe what God is asking him to do.
He is happy to be united to Christ and to unite more of his own people to Christ but how can God want him to be in unity with Gentiles?
Yet by God’s grace Peter obeys. He becomes a starry-eyed witness to the spectacular work and the deep work of the Holy Spirit. In a spectacular way, the gentiles receive the Holy Spirit. But this only reveals the deep work of the Spirit—to transform separated, divided, disjointed people into one, new, united people in Christ.
The unity-building, peace-making, one-humanity creating miracle of the ministry of the Holy Spirit is not celebrated well enough in our nation.
Often in India, it seems it is not enough to be in Christ for us to feel unity with other people. It is required we belong to the same caste, class, culture, tribe, race, or ethnicity. These divisions only grieve the Holy Spirit and aggrieve the world.
The Best Evidence of the Power of the Holy Spirit
Like Peter and the disciples, India’s Christians can be “slow to learn” that the best evidence of the power of the Holy Spirit is unity (Eph. 4:3). His power to unite was on full display at Azusa Street in Los Angeles in 1906, as recounted in an article in Christianity Today.
Every pentecostal or charismatic church in the world can trace its origin, either directly or indirectly, from what happened at Azusa Street.
Frank Bartleman, a journalist who covered the events, witnessed the spectacular and the deep work of the Spirit.
He was amazed to see black and white people worshipping God together. It moved him to describe the city as the “American Jerusalem.” He famously wrote, “The color line was washed away in the blood.” Sadly, the movement was later split across racial lines.
We become divided when we are defensive of our culture because we are insecure about its future. But the Christian future of culture is a beautiful one.
Unity is the best evidence of the power of the Holy Spirit. But the persisting power of division is evidence that even God’s people can resist, quench, and grieve the Holy Spirit.
And yet, as it was on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit still desires to create one people of many tongues, one family of many nations, and one kingdom of many cultures.
This is God’s compelling vision for humanity. It is what the church can be for India that India cannot seem to be for itself.
The Hope for Church Unity
The Glorious Freedom of Eternal Life
The lines of colour, caste, and tribe in India will be washed away when we recognise the other line God washed away by the blood.
Every human being—regardless of culture, caste, colour, race, ethnicity—is equally on the wrong side of that line. It is the line between life and death.
Death is not racist. Death will come to all of us equally. But through Jesus whom God sent we have crossed over from death to life (John 5:24).
This is the glory of Christianity and the foundation for any unity in Christ. No matter where we come from, all of us were once dead until we were brought to life by grace (Gal. 3:36-39).
The Glorious Future of All Cultures
We become divided when we are defensive of our culture because we are insecure about its future. But the Christian future of culture is a beautiful one. “They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations” (Rev. 21:26).
We will only hold to Christ more firmly than to our cultures when we know how much the Lord values them. We do not enter the new creation and leave our cultures behind.
On the contrary, we will bring the glory of our cultures with us and offer them to the Lord of all cultures, who will joyfully receive and redeem them. In that day we will honour our cultures without dishonouring him and enjoy them without being dividing by them.
The Day of Pentecost reveals the work of the Holy Spirit to unite diverse people to Christ and to each other. In our divided times, may we long for his power to make the church in India so united that the world can see Christ himself dwelling and rejoicing in the unity of his people.