Friday, November 16, 2012

November 16, 2012

The Lutheran Pietist Movement: Basic Facts

I first heard the word “Pietist” while researching my family history. One of my ancestors, a Lutheran minister, was criticized for not embracing this movement, and I was curious as to what exactly that meant. Pietism sprang up in the 1660s as a response to traditional Lutheranism, which many felt was still clinging too tightly to originally Catholic practices. These men considered themselves Lutheran and did not want to turn to stricter groups such as Puritanism or Anabaptism --- which for the latter would have been illegal --- but they did desire to take Lutheranism by storm.

One such individual was Philipp Jakob Spener, most likely the man who “got the ball rolling” on the actual founding of Pietism.  He wanted to be Lutheranism’s “reformer,” a “modern-day” Martin Luther, taking a large, well-established faith and “cleaning it up” from the inside. It didn’t go quite the way he planned. It makes one wonder if his years in Switzerland, in the former Calvinist stronghold of Geneva, might have conditioned him to appreciate Calvinism’s strict morality and to seek that same piety for the Lutheran faith.

Spener believed that like the medieval Catholic Church, Lutheranism had been swallowed up in ceremony and outside appearances and did not cling tightly enough to the beauty and simplicity of the Gospel (though many devout Lutherans disagreed with this analogy). The arrival of Spener’s tract “Earnest Desire for a Reform of the True Evangelical Church” sent shock-waves through Germany’s large Lutheran population. Most likely it was a cry of “not another fanatic!” but there were also those who shared Spener’s views.

One of the things he suggested was that those who did not share Lutheran views were to be handled with respect. In the bitterly feudal 17th century, in the midst of France’s horrific persecution of Huguenots and a general European martyrdom of Anabaptists, tolerance between faiths was a radical idea indeed. The Lutheran community held mixed views toward Pietism. Many pastors saw merit in Spener’s words and became Pietists. Many did not.

The backlash from this movement was still going strong in the 1740s, when my pastor ancestor was preaching to German emigrant congregations in America.  Many rivalries in which he found himself involved were connected to the Pietist movement, proving that nearly a century after the movement began and probably even longer, tensions were still high.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved 

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