Pietism was a movement within Lutheranism, lasting from the late 17th century to the mid-18th century and later. It proved to be very influential throughout Protestantism and Anabaptism, inspiring not only Anglican priest John Wesley to begin the Methodist movement, but also Alexander Mack to begin the Brethren movement. The Pietist movement combined the Lutheranism of the time with the Reformed, and especially Puritan, emphasis on individual piety, and a vigorous Christian life.
Pietism did not die out in the 18th century, but was alive and active in the Evangelischer Kirchenverein des Westens (later German Evangelical Church and still later the Evangelical and Reformed Church.) The church president from 1901 to 1914 was a pietist named Dr. Jakob Pister. A discussion of some of the earlier pietist influence in the Evangelical and Reformed church can be found in Dunn et.al, "A History of the Evangelical and Reformed Church" Christian Education Press, Philadelphia, 1962. Further commentary can be found by Rev. Dr. Carl Viehe under Pietism, Illinois Trails, Washington County. Some vestiges of Pietism were still present in 1957 at the time of the formation of the United Church of Christ.
During a stay in Tübingen, Spener read Grossgebauer's Alarm Cry, and in 1666 he entered upon his first pastoral charge at Frankfurt with a profound opinion that the Christian life within Evangelical Lutheranism was being sacrificed to zeal for rigid Lutheran orthodoxy. Pietism, as a distinct movement in the German Church, was then originated by Spener by religious meetings at his house (collegia pietatis) at which he repeated his sermons, expounded passages of the New Testament, and induced those present to join in conversation on religious questions that arose. In 1675 Spener published his Pia desideria or Earnest Desires for a Reform of the True Evangelical Church, the title giving rise to the term "Pietists". In this publication he made six proposals as the best means of restoring the life of the Church:
This work produced a great impression throughout Germany, and although large numbers of the orthodox Lutheran theologians and pastors were deeply offended by Spener's book, its complaints and its demands were both too well justified to admit of their being point-blank denied. A large number of pastors immediately adopted Spener's proposals.
In 1686 Spener accepted an appointment to the court-chaplaincy at Dresden, which opened to him a wider though more difficult sphere of labor. In Leipzig a society of young theologians was formed under his influence for the learned study and devout application of the Bible. Three magistrates belonging to that society, one of whom was August Hermann Francke, subsequently the founder of the famous orphanage at Halle (1695), commenced courses of expository lectures on the Scriptures of a practical and devotional character, and in the German language, which were zealously frequented by both students and townsmen. The lectures aroused, however, the ill-will of the other theologians and pastors of Leipzig, and Francke and his friends left the city, and with the aid of Christian Thomasius and Spener founded the new University of Halle. The theological chairs in the new university were filled in complete conformity with Spener's proposals. The main difference between the new Pietistic Lutheran school and the orthodox Lutherans arose from the Pietists' conception of Christianity as chiefly consisting in a change of heart and consequent holiness of life. Orthodox Lutherans rejected this viewpoint as a gross simplification, stressing the need for the church and for sound theological underpinnings.
Spener died in 1705; but, the movement, guided by Francke, fertilized from Halle the whole of Middle and North Germany. Among its greatest achievements, apart from the philanthropic institutions founded at Halle, were the revival of the Moravian Church in 1727 by Count von Zinzendorf, Spener's godson and a pupil in the Halle School for Young Noblemen, and the establishment of Protestant missions.
Spener's stress on the necessity of a new birth and on a separation of Christians from the world led to exaggeration and fanaticism among some followers. Many Pietists soon maintained that the new birth must always be preceded by agonies of repentance, and that only a regenerated theologian could teach theology, while the whole school shunned all common worldly amusements, such as dancing, the theatre, and public games. Some would say that there thus arose a new form of justification by works. Its ecclesiolae in ecclesia also weakened the power and meaning of church organization. Through these extravagances a reactionary movement arose at the beginning of the 18th century; one leader was Valentin Ernst Löscher, superintendent at Dresden.
As a distinct movement, Pietism had its greatest strength by the middle of the 18th century; its very individualism in fact helped to prepare the way for the Enlightenment (Aufklärung), which would take the church in an altogether different direction. Yet some would claim that Pietism contributed largely to the revival of Biblical studies in Germany and to making religion once more an affair of the heart and of life and not merely of the intellect. It likewise gave a new emphasis on the role of the laity in the church. Rudolf Sohm claimed that "It was the last great surge of the waves of the ecclesiastical movement begun by the Reformation; it was the completion and the final form of the Protestantism created by the Reformation. Then came a time when another intellectual power took possession of the minds of men." Dietrich Bonhoeffer of the German Confessing Church framed the same characterization in less positive terms when he called Pietism the last attempt to save Christianity as a religion: Given that for him religion was a negative term, more or less an opposite to revelation, this constitutes a rather scathing judgement. Bonhoeffer denounced the basic aim of Pietism, to produce a "desired piety" in a person, as unbiblical.
Pietism is considered the major influence that lead to the creation of the "Evangelical Church of the Union" in Prussia in 1817. Upset by the fact that he and his wife could not take communion at each other's church, the King of Prussia ordered the Lutheran and Reformed churches in Prussia to unite; they took the name "Evangelical" as a name both groups had previously identified with. This union movement spread through many German lands in the 1800s. Pietism, with its looser attitude toward confessional theology, had opened the churches to the possibility of uniting. Lutherans who claimed to be more confessionally strict dissented from the union movement; many immigrated to the American Midwest and formed the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, and to Australia where they formed one of the bodies who formed the Lutheran Church of Australia. (Many immigrants to America that agreed with the union movement formed German Evangelical congregations, later to be gathered as the Evangelical Synod of North America, which is now a part of the United Church of Christ.)
Pietism was a major influence on John Wesley and others who began the Methodist movement in 18th century Great Britain. John Wesley was influenced significantly by Moravians (e.g. Zinzendorf, Peter Bohler, etc.) and Pietists connected to Francke and Halle Pietism. The fruit of these Pietist influences can be seen in the modern American Methodists and members of the Holiness movement.
In the 19th century, there was a revival of confessional Lutheran doctrine, known as the neo-Lutheran movement. This movement focused on a reassertion of the identity of Lutherans as a distinct group within the broader community of Christians, with a renewed focus on the Lutheran Confessions as a key source of Lutheran doctrine. Associated with these changes was a renewed focus on traditional doctrine and liturgy, which paralleled the growth of Anglo-Catholicism in England.
Some writers on the history of Pietism - e.g. Heppe and Ritschl - have included under it nearly all religious tendencies amongst Protestants of the last three centuries in the direction of a more serious cultivation of personal piety than that prevalent in the various established churches. Ritschl, too, treats Pietism as a retrograde movement of Christian life towards Catholicism. Some historians also speak of a later or modern Pietism, characterizing thereby a party in the German Church which was probably at first influenced by some remains of Spener's Pietism in Westphalia, on the Rhine, in Württemberg, and at Halle and Berlin.
The party was chiefly distinguished by its opposition to an independent scientific study of theology, its principal theological leader being Hengstenberg, and its chief literary organ the Evangelische Kirchenzeitung.
Some of the primary leaders of Radical Pietism were:
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The subject is dealt with at length in
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