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The Early Church Ascension and Pentecost. Prayer of the Week Reinhold Niebuhr: “ Serenity Prayer”. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

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The Early Church Ascension and Pentecost

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The early church ascension and pentecost l.jpg

Christian Doctrine 1 / Dr. Billings

The Early ChurchAscension and Pentecost


Prayer of the week reinhold niebuhr serenity prayer l.jpg

Christian Doctrine 1 / Dr. Billings

Prayer of the WeekReinhold Niebuhr: “Serenity Prayer”

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it;

Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him Forever in the next.


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Christian Doctrine 1 / Dr. Billings

ACTS 1: opening notes

What is “the first book” referred to in Acts 1? Who wrote it? And who is “Theophilus”?

- The first book is the gospel according to Luke, who is also the author of Acts

  • “Theophilus” is a “lover of God”; a literary device referring to whoever is reading the passage.


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Christian Doctrine 1 / Dr. Billings

Points on the AscensionACTS 1:6-11(see also Luke 24:50-52)

What does Jesus direct the disciples to do during His “forty days” of appearances? How do we know when to celebrate the Ascension? What does Jesus say will happen after his departure?

  • He directs them to wait in Jerusalem for the “promise of the Father” – baptism in the Holy Spirit

  • This event will be on the Pentecost (Ascension is ten days prior to that; 40 days after Easter).

  • The departure of Jesus marks a new moment for the church.

  • Jesus speaks of a baptism with the Holy Spirit that will happen, and the “promise of the Father”


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Christian Doctrine 1 / Dr. Billings

The Ascension

List some “ascensions” in religious history.

  • Jesus:

    • Described in Luke 24 and Acts 1, as precursor to the sending of the Holy Spirit. (see Mk 16:19: “taken up into heaven”)

    • Traditionally thought to have occurred on the Mount of Olives, just east of Jerusalem.

  • Other ascensions:

    • Enoch (Genesis 5:24): the seventh Patriarch does not die, but is "taken" by God;

    • Elijah (2 Kings 2:1-14) the story of the "assumption" of the prophet Elijah, taken to heaven on a fiery chariot;

    • Mohammed: for Muslims, he ascended from Jerusalem.


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Christian Doctrine 1 / Dr. Billings

The Ascension is not…

How can we understand the Ascension?

Not as…

  • Jesus’ body floating in space (“heaven” not “outer space”)

  • Jesus’ spirit leaving His body (not spiritualized)

  • Jesus living up above the clouds (not literal, like “right hand”)

  • Not as a “myth”: saying it is not based in “fact” actually may express a lack of faith in (1) the incarnation or (2) the resurrection.

    Perhaps as… (it is a “mystery”)

    • The necessary consequence of His resurrection.

    • The heavenly transformation of his existence

    • A life beyond the mortal and sinful limits we experience.

    • Making possible a deeper faith and the work of the Holy Spirit within us. (like growing up?)


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Christian Doctrine 1 / Dr. Billings

Mount of Olives - graves


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Christian Doctrine 1 / Dr. Billings

Mount of Olives / Dome of the Rock


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Christian Doctrine 1 / Dr. Billings

The Pentecost: Acts 2: 1-12

What was the Pentecost originally?

  • A Jewish religious holiday

  • 50 days from Passover feast

  • Celebrates giving of law to Moses


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Christian Doctrine 1 / Dr. Billings

How did the Holy Spirit become manifest on the Pentecost? Significance compared with Babel?

  • Gust of wind

  • “Tongues of fire” (on) each disciple

  • Speaking in other tongues – ability to communicate (to Jews only)


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Christian Doctrine 1 / Dr. Billings

Pentecost vs. Babel

How is the Pentecost a “reverse”of tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9)?

  • Babel:

    • They are self-empowered through speaking in one language

    • They desire to make themselves into God (pride)

    • God descends to humble them, and they cannot understand each other

  • Pentecost

    • They are God-empowered through speaking in many languages.

    • God desires to make Himself present to them. (grace)

    • God descends to empower them, and they can understand each other.


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Christian Doctrine 1 / Dr. Billings

“Jew first, and then the Greek”

To whom did the disciples preach on the Pentecost?

  • To Jews (not Gentiles) gathered from around the world

  • They were in Jerusalem: gospel is first preached from there

  • Preaching of gospel first to Jews, then Gentiles

  • This indicates the fulfillment of the promise, culminating in its extension to all (universalism)


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Christian Doctrine 1 / Dr. Billings

Descent of the Spirit,Basset


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Christian Doctrine 1 / Dr. Billings

Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-21)Issue of circumcision

What is the central issue of the so-called “Council of Jerusalem”? What does it reveal about unity of early Christians? Whose position seems to be accepted, and what is that position?

  • circumcision is the key issue – whether Gentile converts need to be circumcised or not;

  • reveals disagreements within early Christians as to how to best follow Christ

  • the position of Paul & Barnabas is accepted – circumcision is not required – salvation through Christ is universally available

  • James favors continued limited imposition of the law; this practice eventually is discontinued by the church

  • Paul’s letters speak of Christians needing to be sensitive to each others religious devotions and practices – but emphasizes grace over law (thus no need for dietary restrictions).


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Christian Doctrine 1 / Dr. Billings

“Council” of Jerusalem


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Christian Doctrine 1 / Dr. Billings

The Early Church


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