Pentecost does raise in acute form the question of what we really believe Christianity is. It burst on the world as a process of incarnation, God breaking out beyond the limits of preconceived thought about him, and starting again.
Christian faith was a process of personal, spiritual and social renewal, more like a fire than an object or a doctrine.
From Christianity’s earliest days, people who didn’t quite get this tried to debase it into a knowledge-based religion. Gnosticism often came with weird ceremonies and strange terminology but its heart was the idea that getting the doctrine, “the knowledge” right, led to everything else. The knowledge was absolutely right with God in a way flesh-and-blood human beings never could be. It was the dogma that judged everything, and established itself by fear.
Dogma is meant to be the wrapping of the process for purposes of transmission — an encapsulating membrane that enables the activity of the Spirit to be passed on, picked up and personalised in future. It is not an absolute in itself, however, and it’s a poor substitute for the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives freedom, where the categories and concepts, even good ones, easily become idols, especially when stuck up and treated as absolutes. Pathetic substitutes for faith, like being right, create their own ideologies and sticking points. Still, however, the Spirit animates those who will let him, from the inside out, and raises fresh possibilities in every fresh context.
Even Christian History is the Holy Spirit’s — for it is no mere catalogue of facts, far less a chain of legalstic precedents to bind the Spirit. Rather it is the discipline that restores to people whose lives we embrace as intricately bound up with ours within the communion of Saints the freedom that once they had. By doing this, we are enabled to live free and faithful lives in our circumstances, without manipulation or pretending.