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Hand-Clapping in a Gothic Nave

What Pentecostals and mainliners can learn from each other.
2005This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

Recently media have paid much attention to two distinct religion stories. One is the surge of global Pentecostalism. The other is the visibility of mainline Protestantism in U.S. culture wars. Yet the two stories rarely connect, and for good reason.

Pentecostals and mainliners generally glide around each other like icebergs passing in the night. Over the years, Pentecostals have viewed mainliners with deep skepticism, judging them theologically lax and culturally spineless. Mainliners, for their part, have viewed Pentecostals—when they viewed them at all—with disdain, judging them theologically primitive and culturally unwashed. No one took prisoners.

My aim is modest. It is not to foster ecumenical dialogue (though that would be nice), nor ecumenical worship (though that would be even nicer). I only hope to suggest that the standoff should cease—not for reasons of Christian unity, but so that each tradition can be more true to itself. Pentecostals can become better Pentecostals, and mainliners can become better mainliners, by paying attention to each other's strengths.

What Mainliners Can Learn


Healing. Pentecostals have made two enduring contributions to the Christian healing tradition.

First, along with healing as physical and psychological restoration, they have emphasized healing as release from addictions. They understand that addictions, no less than illnesses, entrap. Hence addictions too are subject to God's release.

Second, Pentecostals have esteemed healing as the first, not just the last, privilege of the Christian. Early Pentecostal preachers liked to tell a story. A young woman asked a ship captain during a storm if anything could be done. The captain responded, "No, ma'am, it is in God's hands ...

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