The Pietistic Movement

Both in the spiritual life of individuals and nations there is an ebb and flow of spiritual energy - much like that of a battery which needs recharging periodically. This was true in the spiritual life of Israel which experienced a recharging of spiritual life under the Judean kings of Hezekiah and Josiah, but as we know from history, these revivals were short-lived -- and the nation fell back into idolatry only to be overrun by Babylon and sent into captivity.

In the history of the Church the same phenomenon has occurred. After New Testament times the Church degenerated into ceremonialism and sacramentalism which sucked spiritual life out of the Church. Then in the 1500s under the Reformers, new life was breathed into the established Church. Sadly, however, the Reformation revival was short-lived, and the Church slipped back again into ceremonialism and sacramentalism. Christianity basically became a matter of form and ritual. Enter the Pietistic Movement.

Leaders of the Pietistic Movement believed there was more to New Testament Christianity than form and ritual. They preached and taught the biblical message of a personal, daily relationship with Christ. Many portions of the New Testament could be quoted, but it will suffice to quote Colossians 3:15-17: "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." In other words, leaders of the Pietistic Movement wanted to return to the personal, daily relationship with Christ of which the New Testament speaks.

Phillip Jacob Spener (1635-1785) is referred to as the "Father of Pietism," i.e. he emphasized personal transformation through spiritual regeneration and renewal. He was well-schooled in Lutheran theology and served the Church both pastorally and academically. His emphasis on personal piety as a sign of New Testament Christianity rankled some in the ecclesiastical establishment who thought personal life could be separated from biblical teaching. Quotes from his main work, Pia Desiderata, ("desiring holiness"), gives a feel for his great desire to see New Testament Christianity at work in the individual life and in the Church: "What we know is that the church should be free of manifest offenses, that nobody who is afflicted with such failings should be allowed to remain in the church without fitting reproof and ultimate expulsion and that the true members of the church should be richly filled with many fruits of the their faith." "Thought should be given to a more extensive use of the Word of God among us. [As a means of sanctification.] We know that by nature we have no good in us. If there be any good in us, it must be brought about by God. To this end the Word of God is the powerful means"

There were other Pietistic leaders, but August Hermann Franke (1663-1727) stands out -- also part of the Lutheran church clergy. He was in complete sympathy with Spener and made his mark on the Pietistic movement as he joined the University of Halle in Germany. So much could be said about Halle, but it was a shining light for church renewal, Christian education, general education, service to the poor, widowed and the elderly -- and world evangelism. Frank's ministry to hundreds of orphans and outcast children was an inspiration to George Mueller of London. His emphasis on personal salvation, biblical instruction and evangelism was an inspiration to Count Zinzendorf and the founding of the Moravian missionary movement - also the sending out of the first Protestant missionaries, Zieganbalg and Pluetschau. World missions owes a great deal to the Pietistic Movement under the leadership of Franke.

The following quote by Franke is rather extensive, but it breathes the spirit of Pietism: "But while faith is the ground of our justification, it is also the means of happiness; for righteousness and peace cannot be separated from one another. But when we say that our happiness is secured, it must be remembered that something more is intended, than that we shall hereafter be admitted into heaven. This happiness begins from the moment of our justification. For we are then delivered from the wrath and curse of God, from the power of sin and death. We are brought out of darkness into light, from death unto life. God the Father brings us into the kingdom of his Son, and gives us the pledge of inheritance, even the spirit of Jesus Christ; renews us in his image, day by day; awakens a holy fear, and love in our hearts, so that we run with alacrity the way of his commandments, and think it our meat and drink to do his will. Thus does the believer's happiness commence. He now knows that his heavenly Father loves him, and that he will help him to overcome every adversary to his peace. He is now united to Christ and knows that He is his riches, his glory, his all. He knows that his prayers will be heard through the merits of Christ; and that all needful things will be given him. He has the spirit of God dwelling in his heart, filling him with all knowledge, and enabling him to grow daily in faith and love. He finds happiness, too, in the service of God, is doing good to all men as he has opportunity and in the exercise of true benevolence and compassion. He is, by his union with the Redeemer, changed into his heavenly image, and although he dwells in earth, and mingles in the affairs of men, his conversation is in heaven; and he joins in spirit with its blessed inhabitants in prayer and praise to God. His heart is in heaven, for there he has laid up his treasure; and through the Spirit he holds perpetual intercourse with God. Oh! what blessedness is this, thus to be united, in the closest ties, with the adorable Trinity, to have the Great God dwelling in our hearts, and holding his court there; to have angels for our ministers, and to know that as Christ overcame, and is seated on his throne, so shall we triumph over our foes, and sit down with him in the kingdom of Heaven. This blessedness is begun below; but it is completed in that other world, where sin and sorrow can never enter to mar his peace; and where the ransomed sinner shall be conformed to the image of his God, and see his face, and praise him for ever and ever."

This message was not always received well by the established state church. and as in the case of Spener, Franke was criticized for it because the state church did not have control over resulting home Bible studies and prayer meetings which sprang up all over northern Europe - and wherever Pietistic theology became prevalent. In Scandinavia the believers in home Bible studies were derisively called "readers" because they were so biblically oriented. Also in the case of Scandinavia, believers inspired by the teachings of the Pietistic Movement went on to establish free churches (those not controlled by the state church) and brought the biblical message of regeneration and renewal to America during the "Great Emigration" with the development of the Evangelical Free Church, the Mission Covenant Church, and the Swedish Baptist Church (Baptist Conference Church,) etc.

It's most revealing when traveling throughout Europe to view marvelous icons of cathedrals reflecting bygone spirituality filled with beautiful architecture and art - but nearly empty of followers of Christ. They are cold and empty. Ceremonialism and sacramentalism won the day. If one receives the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, Christianity is said to be assured in the individual life. Personal, daily life with Christ, however, becomes practically irrelevant. There are throughout Europe, however, small fires of Pietistic fervor which reflect the spirit of Spener and Franke, but they are few and far between.

In America, the Evangelical movement owes much of its existence to the Pietistic renewal and revival in Europe. Evangelicals emphasize the same principles Spener and Franke taught and preached.

The state church in Europe was not totally unaffected by the Pietistic Movement. A small example is found in the experience of Pastor Jonas Sandell - a Lutheran minister in Froderyd, Smaland, Sweden - a small community between Jonkiping and Kalmar. He totally embraced the warm, personal emphasis found in the Pietistic Movement and taught the vital connection between New Testament teaching and daily living. Not much would be known of him were it not for his daughter, Karolina Wilhemina Sandell-Berg (better known as Lina Sandell), 1832-1903. (A museum in her honor now exists in Froderyd.) At the age of 26 Lina experienced the tragedy of losing her Father in a tragic boating accident on Lake Vattern. Just two years later her Mother died.

Rather than retreating in her grief, Lina got involved in an organization called "Evangeliska Fosterlandstiftelsen" (National Evangelical Institute) in Stockholm. Although she grew up as a sickly child, she went on to become the first successful female head of a publishing house working there for 40 years - producing printed editions of her hymns, materials for children, biographies, spiritual pamphlets and translating stories from English, German and even Latin texts. Her numerous hymns and poems became well-known throughout Scandinavia - and by extension to America. (Just a personal note: we saw her name on passenger train cars in the Swedish city of Jonkoping at the southern tip of Lake Vattern.) (Facts about Lina Sandell taken from Per Harling, Uppsala, Sweden.)

Lina Sandell is known worldwide for her hymn, "Children of the Heavenly Father," (Tryggare kan igen vara) sung at baptisms in many sacramental churches which hold to baptismal regeneration - something totally foreign to her thinking since she held to the idea of personal conversion to Christ. Another well-known hymn widely-sung today is "Day by Day," (Blott en dag).

Oscar Ahnfelt set many of Lina Sandell's verses to music (including Blott en dag) and sang her hymns throughout Sandinavia accompanied on his guitar. Lina remarked: "Ahnfelt has sung my songs into the hearts of the people." The "Swedish Nightengale," Jenny Lind, also loved to sing Lina Sandell's hymns in concert.

As might be expected, the established Church did not approve very much of Sandell's evangelical, pietistic songs and petitioned King Karl XV, ruler of the united kingdoms of Sweden and Norway, to forbid Ahnfelt's teaching and singing. After singing for the king, however, the monarch gave his complete approval to Ahnfelt's ministry.

Although the translation into English of Blott in dag, (Day by Day) cannot do complete justice to the Swedish, one can feel the inner spiritual fervor of the Pietistic Movement in Lina Sandell's hymn:

"Day by day and with each passing moment, Strength I find to meet my trials here; Trusting in my Father's wise bestowment, I've no cause for worry or for fear, He whose heart is kind beyond all measure Gives unto each day what He deems best - Lovingly, it's part of pain and pleasure, Mingling toil with peace and rest.

Ev'ry day the Lord Himself is near me With a special mercy for each hour; All my cares He fain with bear, and cheer me, He whose name is Counselor and Pow'r, The protection of His child and treasure Is a charge that on Himself He laid; 'As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,' This the pledge to me He made.

Help me then in ev'ry tribulation So to trust Thy promises, O Lord, That I lose not faith's sweet consolation Offered me within Thy Holy Word, Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting, E'er to take, as from a father's hand, One by one, the days, the moments fleeting, Till I reach the promised land."

In the pages of church history, the Pietistic Movement is often overshadowed by the Reformation, but without the Pietistic Movement, we would be left with little of living and vital New Testament Christianity. Whenever ceremonial and sacramental Christianity reduces the essence of Christianity to simple conformity to sacramentalism, the very life of New Testament Christianity is lost. We owe a great deal to Spener, Franke and others who, although part of the established Church, understood there was so much more to Christianity than mere conformity to sacramentalism. They not only emphasized personal New Testament piety but also living out the Christian message in society. We stand in their shadow and follow in their train.

In America the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association under the leadership of Franklin Graham carries on the emphases of the Pietistic Movement - solid preaching of the Gospel in mass meetings and through the media - and also by means of meeting physical needs around the world through the Samaritan's Purse.