Global and Local

By Robeck, Cecil M., Jr. | The Christian Century, March 7, 2006 | Go to article overview
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Global and Local


Robeck, Cecil M., Jr., The Christian Century


AS THE MESSAGE of Pentecost spread, it adapted to fit existing cultures. Korean Pentecostals, for instance, frequently climb "prayer mountains" for pre-sunrise prayer services, a reflection of a pre-Christian past. At Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, reputedly the world's largest church, parishioners recite the Apostles' Creed, pray or sing the Lord's Prayer, and pray for the reunification of Korea every Sunday, reflecting something of the old Presbyterian majority. Preachers are expected to take off their shoes and don special slippers when they preach, for they stand on "holy ground." More pragmatically, during the service people are encouraged to pray aloud en masse in "concerts of prayer," but prayer stops the second a bell is rung. American Pentecostals would find such things almost unthinkable.

In much of Central and Eastern Europe, mirroring the practice of Orthodox Christians in the region, the men at Pentecostal services sit or stand on one side of the congregation while women sit or stand on the other, often with their heads covered. Some of them make the sign of the cross, and they share a common communion cup. While ample room is given for manifestations of tongues, interpretation and prophecy, frequently the congregation also sits through two or even three sermons in a single service.

In Scandinavia, the vast majority of Pentecostals are members of what amounts to a national Pentecostal church (of Norway, Sweden, Finland, etc.), in which each congregation is viewed as autonomous, though in recent years these churches' monopoly has been slightly altered as newer groups have emerged. The situation becomes more complex, however, when one realizes that Pentecostals often hold dual membership in a state church (the state Lutheran Church, for example) in order to avoid marginalization in society. In Italy, many Pentecostals have aligned with the Communist Party because it is one of the few places where their influence can be measured over against that of the Catholic Church.

In Latin America, Pentecostals share a common culture with Roman Catholicism, out of which many members have come. The parallels at the level of personal piety and popular religion are abundant. One Pentecostal scholar has noted that in Latin America there are Catholics who honor the pope and Catholics (read: Pentecostals) without a pope, though many local pastors exercise more power among their people than any pope. While many Pentecostals in Latin America distance themselves from Catholicism, most of them remain close to the concepts of suffering and sacrifice seen in the Jesus figures on display in caskets, such as are found in Catholic churches in Mexico, or in the crucified Christ who appears on crucifixes.

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