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Early Pentecostals and the Almost Chosen People

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Since time immemorial, it seems, Christians have struggled with the claims of loyalty to the civil state. For every Roger Williams who insisted that the Christian's allegiances stood above and beyond the state, there was a John Cotton who insisted with equal conviction that the Christian must negotiate between the City of God and the City of Man. As biblical and cultural primitivists, early Pentecostals instinctively identified with the former outlook. Their first thought in the morning was to free themselves from all earthly alliances, including emotional attachments, to the state. But by noon they found that their aspiration to shed mundane political ties was easier claimed than achieved. The sheer complication of getting through life without making endless accommodations to the demands of the civil realm proved more daunting than they had imagined. By nightfall many, perhaps most, realized that political purity was a lost cause to begin with. Conscience told them not to avoid the state but to find ways to live with it in good faith. They discovered, as historian R. Laurence Moore said in a different context, that "[m]eaningful activity in history usually involve[d] exchanging one dilemma for another."1


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