Concordia Historical Institute & the Luther Academy

September 17-18, 1998


Ronald R. Feuerhahn
Concordia Seminary
St. Louis, MO

 Pietism has been, and continues to be, one of, if not the most, influential movement within Lutheranism but also in the traditionally Reformed churches and even within Roman Catholic history, e.g. in the form of Jansenism. One historian has asserted that, "...the dominant influence among Lutherans in North America was pietistic." Like similar movements it has often caused controversy: it has brought comfort to some and consternation to others.

Our examination of the movement will be focused on the life, theology and practice of Philipp Jakob Spener, the so-called "Father of Pietism."


1 Formative Influences

a Strasbourg

Philip Jakob Spener was from Strasbourg. That city represents a number of "roots" for the life and thought of Spener. It was the place, for instance, were Martin Bucer had worked and Johann Arndt had studied. But first of all, it was here that he knew Dannhauer, his teacher, who, we are told, "acquainted Spener with Luther's writings." Johann Konrad Dannhauer was a theologian of Lutheran orthodoxy who had himself studied at Strasbourg (1623-25) as well as other places. At the University of Jena, for instance, he came to know John Gerhard. By 1633 he was professor of theology at the University of Strasbourg where he became the most influential theological of his century.

The link between Spener and Dannhauer interests us because, as we will discuss later, their relationship represents that between Pietism and Orthodoxy. Spener was very fond of his teacher who, according to Spener himself, was the professor of theology who influenced him most. In Pia Desideria, for instance, he says: "I hardly know anything better to recommend than the Christeis of my distinguished teacher, the sainted Dr. John Conrad Dannhauer."

The university at Strasbourg was considered a "citadel of Lutheranism" after its founding in 1621. But before that the theology of the Reformed tradition was dominant and had an abiding influence. The predecessor school was the place of Martin Bucer (1491-1551), Wolfgang Capito (1478-1541), Caspar Hedio (1494-1552), and Jakob Sturm (1489-1553). These four were the authors of the oldest Reformed symbol in German, the Confessio Tetrapolitana, or "Confession of the Four States," which was presented at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530. Bucer and Capito had represented the Reformed position at the Wittenberg Concord in 1536. Under the influence of Sturm, the school at Strasbourg was established "in a spirit of supra-confessional Christian humanism." Though Sturm, and later other Reformed theologians (e.g. Peter Martyr Vermingli), were expelled from Strasbourg, the new Lutheran influences were "influenced by Bucer and Calvinism."

b Bucer et al

The question of influence of Martin Bucer of Strasbourg (d. 1551) upon Spener is an open one. Bucer died in 1551, one century before Spener matriculated in the university there. Spener's view of the pastoral office resembles that of Bucer. Indeed, Bucer's emphasis upon the mutuality of the Christian life, and practice of "mutual edification" in group meetings at Strasbourg in the 1540's, may in some sense have furnished a model to Spener. August Lang presents the thesis that through Puritanism and especially though William Perkins, there is a connection from Bucer to Spener. In 1546 Bucer began the "christliche Gemeinschaften" which would be the model for the later conventicles. In Spener's time, Bucer's original memorial to the town council of Strasbourg regarding this venture was reprinted under the title: "Defense of the so-called Collegiorum pietatis" in 1691 and 1692.

c Puritanism

Puritanism arose roughly one century before the birth of Pietism–in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. It was also contemporary with Jansenism in France. Such movements of revival of moral and religious fervor produced great leaders: John Bunyan, the English Puritan, Nicholas Zinzendorf, the leader of the Moravians, John Wesley of the Methodists, Gilbert Tennent for Presbyterians in America and Blaise Pascal of the Jansenists. There appears to have been some connection in these movements, a common emphasis on morality or sanctification. In the post-Reformation era, this emphasis which had been there already in Calvin, seems to have followed a trail of Reformed sites. From the England of returned Marian exiles, the fathers of Puritanism, to Holland, then to France and Switzerland, and finally to Germany and Scandinavia, the thread runs. Spener had personal and other contacts with representatives of the Swiss, French, and Dutch movements.

Ever since his youth Spener had read translations of the devotional writings of the English Puritans: First was Lewis Bayly's Practice of Piety (1610) and Emmanuel Sonthomb's Golden Jewel. Later he was introduced to other Puritan works by his brother-in-law and mentor, Joachim Stoll, who, in 1647, became court preacher in Rappoltsweiler, Spener's birthplace. Stoll had drawn attention to Daniel Dycke's Nosce te ipsum (Know Yourself) and True Repentance. It may have been Stoll's intention to balance the otherworldliness of Bayly and Sonthomb with a more churchly emphasis in Dycke and Johann Arndt.

Later in his ministry in Frankfurt, in the collegia, which he started in 1670, passages were read from Bayly's Practice of Piety. At one time Spener expressed a preference of Lewis Bayly over Johann Gerhard, an opinion which brought Stoll's disapproval.

The works by Bayly and Sonthomb were particularly popular in Strasbourg at this time; these two devotional books, "despite the strong anti-Calvinistic sentiment in Lutheran Orthodoxy, had permeated Lutheranism in the first half of the century and found their way into Strassburg piety." All of these devotional books by English Puritans were critical of conventional Christianity.

d Geneva

After he completed his theological studies in the summer of 1659, Spener spent two years in travel. He spent varying lengths of time in Basel, Bern, Lausanne, and Geneva in Switzerland, Lyons and Montebéliard in France, and Freiburg and Tübingen in Germany.

At Geneva Spener "became acquainted with the polity and inner life of the Reformed Church. He always considered himself to be a Lutheran. But he was less interested in doctrine than in practical piety." In Geneva, "the Lutheran theology he had willingly imbibed at Strasbourg was fertilized by Calvinism... Though he remained a zealous Lutheran [sic. ?], Spener too was warm in his admiration for Geneva."

Here Spener often went to hear Jean de Labadie (1610-1674), zealous French Reformed preacher. The fact that Spener had one of Labadie's French tracts published in a German translation about six years later suggests that his had been a lasting impression. Labadie attempted to found a new church of the regenerate, on the primitive model. It is likely that he may have derived form him some suggestions toward his later concept of the ecclesiola or little church of true saints.

e Reformed "Leaven"

The "progression" of the these revival movements (or perhaps it was basically one movement) had another common factor. It was a movement within the Reformed churches– England, Netherlands, France and Switzerland, before it reached German Lutheranism. There were, of course, differences from place to place. The protest against episcopacy and liturgy which was a prominent feature of English dissent, for instance, had no meaning to the Reformed churches on the continent. On the other hand, for "Lutheran" Pietists there was a concern about the "formalism" of liturgy. Unlike the Puritans and the revival movement in the Netherlands the Pietists of Germany did not seek ecclesiastical reforms.

The Pietists of Lutheranism were clearly influenced by Reformed theology and piety. The final result of this Reformed leaven "was an emotionalism which deprecated the power of the means of grace as such and stressed spiritual exercises as being more important."

f Johann Arndt (1555-1621) & Mysticism

German Lutherans were made receptive to these influences from abroad by two elements which they inherited form the age of Orthodoxy. On the one hand, there had been a revival of mysticism in the Lutheran church during the seventeenth century. The most influential Lutheran writer of mystical literature was Johann Arndt, whose book of sermons on the gospels, the Postilla, was the occasion for Spener's major writing, the Pia Desideria of 1675.

That Johann Arndt had a strong influence is almost too obvious for comment. Perhaps our first question, however, is: What do we make of Arndt? If, as some might assert, his influence on Spener and others of such revival movements indicates a more internal, subjective and less doctrinal piety, his impact, then, is less than Lutheran. But in his life we find evidences of a very Lutheran consciousness. In 1590, for instance, he left Badeborn (Anhalt) because he would not yield to the Reformed ordinances of the duke. He was a close friend of Johann Gerhard, with whom he had much in common. In what way does a man with such "orthodox credentials" come to be so influential for a movement which is said to have disavowed the chief emphases of Orthodoxy?

Arndt's Vier Bücher vom wahren Christentum (ET True Christianity), a devotional book (1606-09), was the first German Lutheran devotional books for the common people. Next to Thomas a Kempis' Imitation of Christ it was the most widely circulated devotional books. Toward the close of his life he explained why he wrote it:

In the first place, [a] I wished to withdraw the minds of students and preachers form an inordinately controversial and polemical theology which has well-nigh assumed the form of an earlier scholastic theology. Secondly, [b] I purposed to conduct Christian believers from lifeless thoughts to such as might bring forth fruit. Thirdly, [c] I wished to guide them onward from mere science and theory to the actual practice of faith and godliness. And fourthly, [d] to show them wherein a truly Christian life that accords with true faith consists, as well as to explain the apostle's meaning when he says, "I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me," etc. (Gal.2:30).

It contained an appeal for sanctification and called for repentance. It condemned "mere theory" and the "art of disputation." Here, in True Christianity, were found such medieval notions as the imitation of Christ and contempt for this world; these emphases helped prepare the way for Pietism. Arndt's aim was to induce theologians and lay people to turn from controversy to fellowship and charity, and from the confessions of faith [fides quae creditur] to faith itself [fides qua creditur]. He held it essential to add holiness of life to purity of doctrine. Arndt has passages that accord with salient ideas of Pietism.

Offense was taken at the manner in which he quite unhesitatingly accepted medieval and other mystics (e.g., Bernard of Clairvaux); also at his emphasis on sanctification. Some of his critics asserted that he put an emotional type of piety into the place of a Lutheran Christianity based on the Word and on faith.

g "Early" Luther

Spener felt himself nearer to Luther then to contemporary interpreters of Luther. He would honor Luther, but he regrets to say that "if Luther should rise again today he could not recognize as his disciples many of his spiritual descendants" (Theologische Bedenken, III, 84 [cf. Pia Desideria, 52]).

Spener's citation of Luther is noticeably weighted to the early Luther, pre-1525, or in the period of the more pronounced anti-Roman polemic or the time when Luther was still struggling with his own Roman piety. "The pietists found fault with Luther's boldness and obvious enjoyment of life, with his occasional violence and carelessness in speech, with his biblical criticism and concern about doctrine." Some pietists held that while Luther and the Reformation had indeed corrected matters of doctrinal error, they had not completed the task with regard to life and worship. We will discuss this later, for instance, under the title of "The Second Reformation."

2 Circumstances

a Germany

The Germany of the 17th century was dominated by the Thirty Years War. The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 brought a welcome relief and has been assigned by some scholars as the threshold of the Modern Era. The war has been referred to as "the last of the religious wars and the first of the great conflicts of modern times." It also provided for legal recognition of the Calvinists. This had been secured through the demands of the Elector of Brandenburg. There had been an expansion of the Reformed at the close of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries into territories, e.g. Anhalt, Baden, Hessen, Brandenburg, which had previously been Lutheran. Whether the Peace of Westphalia provided for or was an indication of the rising power of the Reformed confessionalist is debatable. But it was at least an indicator of the growth of Reformed strength and influence which would come to dominate German Protestantism by the end of World War II.

b Thirty Years War

The birth of Pietism came in the period of, or at least immediately following, the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648). It was one of the most devastating wars of European history which inflicted its moral as well as material deterioration particularly on Germany. It has been observed that the main causes of Pietist, "are undoubtedly to be found in the conditions following the Thirty Years' War, when a generation of people which had become estranged form an orderly church life had to be trained in the faith and in the ordinances of the Church." It might be asserted that the history of the church has been marked by movements of reaction following periods of conflict which are marked by a turning away from dogma and confessions, as causes of conflict, toward a more subjective and inward piety.

c Church Life

During the seventeenth century there had been repeated complaints about the decay of church life, and these were accompanied by pleas for reform. Nor were the Pietists the only ones calling for reform. Many noted Orthodox leaders had voiced the plea before: John Valentine Andreae (1586-1643), grandson of Jakob, co-author of the Formula of Concord, "criticized the contentiousness of theologians, the interference of princes in the affairs of the church, and the religious illiteracy of the people while he engaged actively in social reform." Balthasar Meisner (1587-1626), professor in Wittenberg and an unrelenting contender against Calvinism, lectured about the shortcomings of the clergy and civil rulers. Above all, at least in stature among the Orthodox fathers, Johann Gerhard (1582-1637), called the "Archtheologian of Lutheranism," called for reform. His Sacred Meditations, was translated into all major European languages and attained a circulation next in order to the Bible and Thomas a Kempis' Imitation of Christ.

Theodore Tappert describes how class distinctions were manifest even in the churches. There was often a distinction of seating in the church. "The upper classes often insisted on having their baptisms, weddings, funerals, and communions in private (whether in the church or at home)." The clergy, especially court chaplains, "became as obsequious toward their rulers as other courtiers."

Interconfessional polemics was prominent at this time. This was particularly unpleasant for the Pietists, as, noted above, it had been for Arndt.

d Orthodoxy

It has become almost a commonplace to describe Pietism as a reaction to the period of Orthodoxy. Thus one can read about Pietism that it was, "a movement of the late 17th and early 18th centuries against the prevailing orthodoxism." However, the writer does add: "in spite of the fact that men like Arndt, Herberger, and Nicolai tried to combine full orthodoxy and spiritual life." There are a few scholars who, on the other hand, challenge that widespread assumption, Bengt Hägglund, for one. Tappert's description of this reaction is perhaps typical:

...a necessary and wholesome reaction to the stark intellectualism and sterile institutionalism which had characterized so much of church life in the seventeenth century.

Arndt had noted it in his day:

It is a notion too prevalent at this day that men are very good Christians if...they have attained to some kind of intellectual knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Tappert offered a rather optimistic interpretation:

There is a sense in which it may be said that the pietists within the Lutheran church adhered to the theology of Orthodoxism and merely shifted the accent. The pietists themselves claimed to translate orthdoxist doctrines, which had been apprehended intellectually, into living realities. But they showed more interest in some topics of theology, and they passed by others with scant attention or treated them differently. The consequence was that, although the pietists gave the appearance of adhering to orthodoxist theology, they actually developed a new theology even if this was never fully formulated.

- Doctrine

Partly as a consequence of the Thirty Years' War, partly as a reaction to the polemical stance of many of the Orthodox theologians, but chiefly because of the emphasis on sanctification over justification, the role of doctrine was demoted.

But for many correctness of doctrine was a cold and sterile matter. The long decades of warfare, famine, and pestilence of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries had produced a yearning for the kind of religion that warmed the heart and set the soul on fire with assurance and certainty. The movement known as pietism met that need. Far more concerned with a faith that could be lived with zeal and certainty than with a doctrinal system, pietism produced in both the Lutheran and Reformed churches an attitude and disposition which minimized the doctrinal differences between the two and stressed instead an underlying unity rooted in personal religious experience.

The emphasis on "pure teaching" seems to some observers to have been almost a unique feature of the Orthodox. It is sometimes associated with the controversial and polemical character of the age. Of course it was there in Luther and the 16th century as well!

3 Aims

a Sanctification

Pietism has focused the church's attention on sanctification. That is not unique; there is a common thread in the church's history of such movements, Puritanism and Methodism to name but two. Such movements were in part a reaction to an apparent or real lack of piety in the church. As a corrective to the situation of the time, these movements gave an emphasis to the Christian life, usually to the neglect of doctrine. In fact one might say that for the Pietists the following slogan is appropriate: "Life verses doctrine." It was a movement which asserted the primacy of feeling in Christian experience.

b Practical Christianity, Living Faith, Fruits of Faith

One way of expressing the aim of sanctification was in terms of "living," "fruits," or "practical Christianity." Martin Schmidt, a leading scholar on Pietism, describes this.

Faith, the chief element in the teachings of the Reformation, was more clearly defined as "living faith"; and the evidence that faith is "living" was sought in the "fruits of faith" (Matt. 7:16ff.; John 7:17; Gal. 5:22; Rom. 6:22), i.e. in sanctification of life, above all in the exercise of love.... Christian perfection, a subject which the Reformation had slighted somewhat, was to be brought back into the center of church life.

c fides qua creditur

The difference between Lutherans and the Reformed, which occupied much of the attention of the scholastic theologians, was generally played down by Spener as a result of his emphasis on subjective faith (fides qua creditur) as over against objective faith (fides quae creditur).

This shift of emphasis effectively places the Law in a position over the Gospel in the sense of giving chief attention to man's subjective faith over the external faith.

d Second Reformation

Pietism's "avowed purpose was to bring about a second reformation." This has been discussed in detail by Carter Lindberg. The first Reformation was seen as incomplete.

[Spener] held that the Lutheran Reformation was left incomplete. "The departure from Babylon took place, indeed, but the temple and the city were not yet built," and there is needed now a fresh cleansing of abuses ([Theologische Bedenken], III, 179, 180). Furthermore, Luther's authority is not final. He was a fallible man "far, far beneath the apostles." We must not follow him blindly; there is much in him that we must sorrowfully deplore (III, 712).

This was also a common view of the Reformed, according to Hermann Sasse. Lutheranism was conceived, especially by Reformed Churches, as a "form" of Evangelical Christianity, a "school" or "branch" of the Reformation church. For example, John George Schmucker, the father of Samuel Simon, says in his Prophetic History:

Though the church was reformed in its 'doctrine and worship,' Luther's Reformation was left unfinished because it did not produce 'a revival of experimental Christianity.' The incompleteness of the Reformation made necessary another intervention by Divine Providence. Johann Arndt (1555-1621) was sent by God as 'the author of the second Reformation.' For Schmucker, he was also the fulfillment of the prophecy of the angel with 'the eternal gospel to proclaim' (Rev. 14:6). In contrast to the earlier Reformers, Arndt succeeded in reestablishing 'experimental religion and the internal worship of God' in exciting his followers 'to the imitation of Christ.'"


1 Prolegomena & Authority

a Epistemology

Pietism fostered a shift in epistemology, that is, how we "know" things, especially, but not limited to, the area of religion.

Its subjective epistemology served to justify freedom from ideology (civil or religious) and from external cultural restraints and gave primacy to the authority of the individual's perceptions and intuitions, all of which was in harmony with the developing cultural ethos of America.

This analysis has been supported by Hägglund.

The new way of thinking was expressed in epistemology. According to Spener, experience is the ground of all certainty, both on the natural level and on the level of revelation. As a result the personal experience of the pious is the ground of certainty for theological knowledge. Only the regenerate Christian can be a true theologian and possess real knowledge of revealed truth.

b Word of God

While the Pietists gave great emphasis to Bible reading, nevertheless the Scriptures were viewed differently than had been in the church of the Lutheran Reformation.

i The Word of God was no longer formal principle. It may have been a norm but not the sole, nor indeed, the preeminent norm.

ii It was replaced by conversion, the experience of regeneration, the norm of an inner experience or feeling.

iii There is a tendency to encourage a "private and individual" study, and even interpretation, of the Bible.

iv While the sermon is good, it is certainly insufficient. The sermon, like the Scriptures, is an external authority and thus not as effective.

c Confessions

In Lutheranism, the confessions have a role of authority second only to the Scriptures. But like the Scriptures, they too are an external authority. Furthermore, the Confessions, as fides quae creditur, are seen as marginal in importance, especially as they also confess negative propositions about the declarations of others.

The anxious adherence to the letter of the Lutheran Confessions which had marked Orthodoxism was also relaxed.... Besides calling attention to a few instances in the Confessions of mistaken biblical exegesis, such pietists as Spener raised questions about the Confessions' treatment of absolution, prayers for the dead, and other topics.

d Authority of Doctrine & Theology:

The Pietist view of doctrine may be understood as very modern. Once again, doctrine is an external thing; furthermore, it and the theological endeavor in general are perceived are intellectual activities which had little appeal for the Pietists.

The pietists were never too concerned over theological differences; in their concern for Christian living they tended to gloss over or ignore doctrine, and caused no divisions with anyone because of doctrinal variations. Unlike Lutheranism, both Pietism and the Reformed Church made doctrine a secondary consideration.

The turn towards the subject meant, however, a fateful turn from theology as doctrinal truth claim to theology as an account of faith's experience and its practical and ethical consequences.

e Consciousness

There have been various theologies based on consciousness; Pietism has been one. It, for instance, had a marked influence on Friedrich Schleiermacher, called the "Father of Modern Theology," and a Pietist of a "higher order."

The role assigned to the consciousness brings us up against the fact that it has only a limited capacity, so that when one thing is dominant in it, it cannot absorb others. In Pietism this may be seen grotesquely in Zinzendorf, and partially in Spener, with regard to the sexual libido. The capacity of consciousness does not allow love of the Lord to exit side by side with sexual desire in our emotional potential. Hence for the Savior's sake the libido has to be excluded from sexual intercourse and new children of God have to be conceived without desire. The starting point in the pious consciousness necessitates a strict control of what is received into the heart because of its limited capacity. Believers must seek to exercise apathia even in marriage.

2 Consequences

a Rationalism & the Aufklärung (Enlightenment), e.g. Halle University

It can be said that Pietism prepared the way for rationalism and the Enlightenment. Bengt Hägglund has observed this.

Thus it was that conservative Pietism inaugurated, in a variety of ways, the modern way of thinking in the field of theology and ecclesiology. In its subjective concept of knowledge and in its interest in morality and the empirical facts of religion, Pietism bore within itself tendencies which came into full bloom in the thought world of the Enlightenment, in the secular area as well as in the theological sphere.

In fact, by its emphasis on the subject (away from the objective), it became the fertile soil "for several modern movements: Neology, rationalism, Enlightenment, romanticism." This was illustrated at the Pietist University of Halle; as Pietism had cleared the dogmatic spirits of the day out of Halle, so they left the doors open for the even more evil spirits of Rationalism. "Pietism broke the hold of orthodoxy, but in so doing left the intellectual field in Germany and Scandinavia open to the inroads of English deism and French skepticism."

Robert Handy stated this in a very similar way:

"Pietism broke the grasp of confessional orthodoxy, but it raised up no theological leaders to take the place of the older dogmatic theologians. The critical, rationalist spirit of the eighteenth century...invaded Germany and found the intellectual field largely barren."

b Prussian Union

Pietism also fostered the Prussian Union. It was among three movements which "allowed" the Union to be effected, Nationalism, Rationalism and Pietism.

Union of the Lutherans and Reformed was in part the outcome of the Aufklrung and Pietism. The one with its rationalism minimized the doctrinal differences between the confessions, and in the other the quality of religious experience and the methods employed for nourishing and giving effect to the Christian life overpassed confessional boundaries.

This was also observed by Hermann Sasse in one of his most forceful critiques of the Reformed influences on Lutheranism.

The unions of 1817 and the following years were possible because Pietism and the Enlightenment had not only undermined the doctrinal basis of the church, but, along with that, had destroyed the understanding for confessional differences.

c Ecumenism

Pietism's dissolution of Orthodoxy's confessional consciousness is directly related to its own self-understanding as an international and interconfessional movement. Thus Pietism was a decisive preparation for the modern, ecumenical movement.

It was clear that Christian experience was not limited to Lutherans, and since experience was stressed rather than doctrine, denominational differences tended to be disregarded.

3 Theology

a Church

There were three features of pietistic ecclesiology which are prominent.

i collegia pietatis & ecclesiolae in ecclesia

ii fellowship

iii individualism

Less importance was attached to the church; it was viewed as an mere institution. The organized church was often criticized as "Babylon, as corrupt, and the formation of conventicles (ecclesiolae in ecclesia) had the effect of taking individuals or groups of individuals out of the larger community of Christians.

One of the chief characteristics of pietism as it took institutional form in Germany and Scandinavia was the conventicle, a small group of Christians who met apart from the regular worship of the congregation for Bible study, prayer, and mutual edification. In these groups the externals of liturgical worship as well as the sacramental means of grace were subordinate to the experience of awakening and conversion.

b Baptism & Confirmation

In his Pia Desideria, Spener made a very Lutheran confession of baptism.

Nor do I know how to praise Baptism and its power highly enough. I believe that it is the real "washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit" (Tit. 3:5), or as Luther says in the catechism, "it effects forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and grants" (not merely promises) "eternal salvation."

On the other hand, infant baptism had less meaning. Pietists stressed the need for a conversion experience; baptism continued to be observed but was supplanted by the rite of confirmation.

c Confession & Absolution

I assume that Dr. Krispin will be dwelling on this topic. I therefore offer only this summary description and comments on it.

Private confession, which had for the most part become an empty formality [!], was gradually supplanted in may places by general confession, but was more meaningfully replaced by a new emphasis on the cure of individual souls.

There was a move, then, away private to a general, public confession. Even here we can note evidences of Pietist influence. This can be observed in some forms of Confession and Absolution, e.g.:

I now ask you before God, Is this your sincere confession, that you heartily repent of your sins, believe on Jesus Christ, and sincerely and earnestly purpose, by the assistance of God the Holy Ghost, henceforth to amend your sinful life? Then declare so by saying: Yes."

Perhaps an even more telling form of pietistic practice is found in the following form of absolution [?]; it begins in the declarative statement, no uncommon in Lutheran rites:

Upon this your confession, I, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God to all of you. On behalf of my Lord Jesus Christ and by his command, I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Now notice what is added immediately in the very next sentence:

God forbid that any of you reject his grace and forgiveness by refusing to repent and believe, and your sins therefore remain unforgiven.

The words following seem a weak attempt to recover the full promise and joy of the absolution offered so recently.

My he comfort you with his holy absolution, and strengthen you with his Sacrament, that your joy may be full.

Here the Pietists may have attempted to address a concern even expressed by "more orthodox" Lutherans: "Can the pastor responsibly pronounce the forgiveness of sins in such a blanket manner or in such a public (contra private) setting?" The problem became real when the church lost the practice of private confession and absolution.

d Lord's Supper

In the same way that Spener had offered a Lutheran confession of baptism (above), so he also spoke of the Sacrament of the Altar.

Nor less gladly do I acknowledge the glorious power in the sacramental, oral, and not merely spiritual eating and drinking of the body and blood of the Lord in the Holy Supper. On this account I heartily reject the position of the Reformed when they deny that we receive such a pledge of our salvation in, with, and under the bread and wine, when they weaken its power, and when they see in it no more than exists outside the holy sacrament in spiritual eating and drinking.

"Occasionally pietists showed reluctance to receive Communion, either because they felt that they were themselves unworthy or because they were unwilling to receive it with unworthy people or at the hands of unworthy ministers." The reluctance could perhaps explain that in parts of Estonia and Latvia it has been customary to commune only once a year.

e The Office

Pietism sought to transform the minister's office, "making him a shepherd of souls and a preacher of salvation, not simply an administrator of sacraments and a protector of pure doctrine." This conforms with the overall aims of Pietism: an emphasis on the internal will detract from, neglect and reshape the theology and practice especially of the holy office and sacraments. For these are external gifts of God.

f Repentance

Repentance occupied a dominant place in the theology and life of the pietists. The emphasis on the inner life encouraged, even demanded, serious and constant self-examination. This "self-analysis...cast them on the iron couch of introspection."

Constant probing of the inner life often led to morbid introspection and gave great vogue to diaries, autobiographies, and other accounts of spiritual struggles. Weeping, wailing, and groaning were regarded as sure signs of true repentance, and people belabored themselves, even in their hymns, as "rotten carcasses" and "stinking worms."

This was very indicative of a shift in theology which in turn had practical consequences, i.e. that it placed the believers right back under the law.

Repentance was reduced to remorse, and in time a sort of routine was devised artificially to excite appropriate feelings. This sometimes led to self-deception, hypocrisy, and an affected mouthing of pious clichés, the "language of Canaan." The consequence, theologically, was that what man does in repentance was placed in the foreground rather than what God has done and does in Christ. This inevitably carried with it a change in the understanding of justification.

All of these changes reflect the shift of accent from institution to individual, from outward act to inner experience.

g Forensic Justification - Regeneration

Pietism expressed many of its concerns in what I describe as an "adverbial" manner: e.g., " Do you really repent?" This question was especially with reference to confession itself. (See above) "Are you really saved? The same may be observed in much "Evangelical" piety today. Arthur Repp noted that Spener "looked for some means by which he as pastor could deal with the individual to assure himself that his parishioner was truly converted."

Pietism was not content with criticizing the orthodox institutional church and demanding the introduction of reforms. It also--and this constitutes its real church historical significance--focused chief attention upon a different biblical-theological subject. The reformers and the orthodox theologians had given central place to the Word of God and the doctrine of justification. But Pietism's central subject was regeneration (conversion, rebirth).

Spener fostered a tradition of mystical spiritualism.

Characteristic of this tradition is the central place given to regeneration (a biological image) instead of justification (a forensic image). The language of "rebirth," "new man," "inner man," "illumination," "edification," and "union of Christ with the soul" is common to Spener and to the older mystics.

Thus there was a shift away from forensic, justification talk. This came under the influence of Eastern Christian ascetic tradition and elements of mysticism in the West.

Forensic terminology gave way to organic terms implying growth and development. The popularity of the language of "rebirth," "new man," "inner man," "inner prayer," "illumination," "sanctification" or "godliness," "partaking of the divine nature," "union with Christ" and "union with God" was illustrative of shifting theological emphases. Most important was the shift from justification to regeneration (conversion, rebirth) as the central theological theme and a parallel shift from faith to love.

This "most important" shift is further explained in the following:

Major emphasis was placed on regeneration, which Spener thought of as the granting of a new life. Justification is the fruit of regeneration. The doctrine of imputation was therefore replaced by the idea that justification and sanctification form a unity. This unity is expressed by the term "regeneration" (or "new birth"), which no longer--as in the older tradition--coincides with the concept of the forgiveness of sins but designates an inner transformation which in turn is the source of the new life that characterizes the Christian man.

h Luther & the Pietists on Regeneration:

On an important point which separated Luther from the Pietists, Martin Schmidt, a leading German scholar on Pietism, wrote the following:

They [the Pietists] liked to deal with regenerate man as a fixed quantity and therefore spoke of the fruits of regeneration. The Reformer [Luther] remained engaged in the struggle between the old and the new man. The (Pietist) problem of attainability he [Luther] deferred in favor of the state of affairs which he described strikingly with the word "temptation" [Anfechtung]. This state of affairs taught the "heeding of the word" (Isaiah 28:19) and the consolation of divine grace in the forgiveness of sins. Out of the liberating message that Jesus Christ had done everything for him, the new man came forth. Thus the Christian, who was always becoming, looked never to himself nor to the rank of his being a child of God. 'Flesh' and 'spirit,' as they are harshly contrasted to one another in the seventh and eighth chapter of Romans, remained for him irreconcilable opposites.... [ellipsis original] The believer did not progress beyond Anfechtung and Luther judged a condition without it to be of gravest danger. That is why a Christian never fixed his eyes upon himself, but upon his Lord and depended upon his Word... [ellipsis mine] The pietists sought to advance again the importance of Luther's teaching of a living faith. In so doing, however, they shifted the emphasis: the vivacity, which made itself recognizable in good works, was valued more by them than faith itself. Yet Luther understood faith to cling to the divine promise and to depend upon the promise itself, so that the believer was acceptable to God with his entire being... [ellipsis mine] The fruits of faith became more important for the pietists than their source, faith, on which everything was dependent for Luther.


While most of confessional Lutheranism has recognized that many of the concerns of the Pietists have been good, and many of the fruits can be appreciated, nevertheless the close examination of its theology and its consequence must bring us to a clear refutation (Titus 1:9; 2 Timothy 3:16) of its errors.

I have overlooked some of its more positive accomplishments, e.g.

[1] its effort to intensify Christian piety and purity of life;

[2] its protest against intellectualism and ethical passivity;

[3] its rejection of the new forms of rationalism and the spiritual coldness of the Enlightenment;

[4] its encouragement of charitable concerns, leading to a great flowering of Christian philanthropy, the founding of schools, orphanages, and hospitals (e.g. Francke's institutions at Halle);

[5] its impetus to missionary activities.

But by its very aims, in terms of the ethical and moral, the experience and inner life, it was a return to the law (Galatians 1:6f, 4:9), directing the soul not first and primarily to God but to self. By its confusion of justification and sanctification, law and gospel, it threatens the Christian's understanding and experience of the grace of God and robs him of the comfort of God's promises. Such an error is damnable, literally, according to St. Paul (Galatians 1:8 & 9). We, however, are not to judge the faith of the Pietists (even though they often have sought to do that of fellow Christians). Rather we turn our attention once again to God's promises for us and His church. We "are known by God" (Galatians 4:9) and placed into the family of the baptized. Baptism marks us as what we are, and that not of our own doing, our own "birth." We are fed the body and blood of His Christ, which forgives us and grants us life and salvation. The Word of our lives is His Word. Everything about our "lives" as Christians is His–His life, His doing, His justification, His holiness, His redemption–which He graciously gives to us. (1 Corinthians 1:30).

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