Whatever happened to Pietism? This morning in My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers gives a very negative assessment of the Pietism of his day, saying,
The pietistic movements of to-day have none of the rugged reality of the New Testament about them; there is nothing about them that needs the Death of Jesus Christ; all that is required is a pious atmosphere, and prayer and devotion. This type of experience is not supernatural nor miraculous, it did not cost the passion of God, it is not dyed in the blood of the Lamb, not stamped with the hall-mark of the Holy Ghost…
What on earth was he talking about?
He referred to the movement called Pietism that grew out of German Lutheranism that came through the influence of Philip Spener in 1675, when he published his masterful book Pia Desiderata or “Earnest Desire.” Spener was concerned with the direction the Lutheran Reformation had taken a hundred years after the death of Luther and Melancthon. The movement begun with such hope and life, had become formal and dry. The church had become dominated by the pastors, just as the Catholic Church had been dominated by the bishops and priests, and the Lutheran lay people felt locked out. In addition their preaching was doctrinally strong but devotionally weak, and sometimes just mean spirited toward others. Spener emphasized the devotional reading of the Bible in daily life, the involvement of the laity in church government, graciousness in preaching, lay people meeting in small groups to study the Bible together, and a generally more spiritual atmosphere of the church.
Through this influence revival did happen through the churches in Europe and also America. In fact, the first Great Awakening in America was in some ways the result of Pietism’s influence, as was also the conversion of Wesley. God’s way has always been the way of grace and love, His life within us transforming us, changing us. Christ said that we recognize the true followers by their fruit, emphasizing the basic inward change that His Spirit brings to lives. We become new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). Originally this was the truth that Pietism emphasized, and the dryness of 16th century Lutheranism began to change, and the movement began to experience the life of God again.
Yet the movement eventually got off-center in Europe. Some places it morphed into a movement that left Christ out of the discussion and emphasized instead the personal ability to concentrate on spiritual and moral matters. Elsewhere it became legalistic and left off the divine life of God indwelling the believer and transforming his heart and life and focused instead on the believer’s achievements. By the time Chambers wrote, in the early 1900’s, Pietism was only a shell of its former self.
All movements that forget the power of God and the grace of God in Christ are destined to ultimately fail and even distract from God’s work. This is true chiefly because the way that God deals with us is always through grace. We can never forget grace, or the work of Christ to redeem us, and that we are to live in this new way – empowered daily by His Spirit. We are to die to self and live to God. It is not my dedication that I need in order to live for Christ. It is the work of God that I need.
Lord, teach us to depend on You and You alone. We need Your grace and Your forgiveness, and Your presence and power within us. Amen.