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PIETISM

Pastor Gregory L. Jackson

Martin Chemnitz Doctrinal Bulletin

 

David Rinden, in Faith and Fellowship (Church of the Lutheran Brethren), published a review of Catholic, Lutheran, Protestant, reprinted in CN (12-22-97, p. 21).  He took issue with my criticism of Pietism, saying that I ignored such leaders as Carl Olof Rosenius.  Rinden wrote:  “Certainly this pietism emphasized prayer groups—a good practice—and at the same time did not disparage the Means of Grace and orthodox doctrine.”

 

Rosenius is not an unfamiliar name to me.  His influence upon the Augustana Synod was part of my doctoral dissertation at Notre Dame.  George Scott, an English Methodist came to Sweden in 1820 to promote religious revival.  Rosenius (1816-1868) came to Scott in 1840 and found his religious questions answered.  Rosenius joined Scott’s work.  Together they established the periodical Pietisten in 1842.   When I worked at the Augustana College (Rock Island, Ill.) library in the 1960s, one of my jobs was to move old copies of Pietisten (The Pietist), considered sacred relics.[1]  The Augustana Synod had no qualms about identifying with Pietism, but some significant early leaders were trained in Lutheran orthodoxy at Capital in Columbus, Ohio.  The Augustana Synod tried unsuccessfully to blend orthodoxy and Pietism.

 

I am glad that Rinden pointed out my criticism of Pietism.  In my opinion, no Lutheran synod exists today in America.[2]  The ELCA, LCMS, WELS, (The Big Three) the ELS, and the CLC (The Tiny Two) all suffer from various stages of doctrinal degeneration from the influence of Pietism.  Many fine Lutheran pastors and congregations exist in the conservative groups, but their synodical  leadership is committed to the goals, methods, and doctrines of Pietism.  Published proof is available for anyone dedicated enough to read synodical news releases or wander through a Lutheran college library.

 

PIETISM DEFINED

What is Pietism?  Although some may want a multi-volume answer, filled with opaque footnotes, time does not permit such a luxury.[3]  I would define Pietism in this way:

1.     The Law dominates rather than the Gospel, often in a changing code of holiness that may forbid adiaphora (wearing lipstick, watching any movie, playing cards – even Old Maid) or require certain activities (political activism) to prove one is truly a Christian.

2.     Orthodox doctrine is ridiculed as “head religion” while Pietism is taught as “heart religion.” 

3.     Love is used as an excuse for overlooking doctrinal errors.

4.     Emotion judges thought, so correct teaching is condemned if it makes someone feel bad.  False doctrine is commended if it promotes good feelings.

5.     Because of the dominance of the Law, everyone feels compelled to act perfect, so hypocrisy abounds.  One of the best examples is the LCMS and WELS criticism of  ELCA while the “conservative” Lutheran leaders work hand-in-claw with ELCA.  In worship!  In evangelism! In leadership training!

6.     Pietism is unforgiving, due to the emphasis upon salvation through works of the Law.

7.     The doctrinal indifference of a self-proclaimed heart religion encourages unionism.

8.     Missions and evangelism dictate the goals of the denomination, at the expense of liturgical worship, education, and sound doctrine.  Liberal Pietists are untouchable if they are engaged in political activism (saving the world).  Conservative Pietists are untouchable if they wrap themselves in the Church Growth Movement (saving the world and funding Fuller Seminary).

9.     Genuine Lutherans see through liberal and conservative Pietism, so Pietists respond accordingly.  Pietism is always at war with Lutheran doctrine.

10.  Pietism is anti-liturgical, anti-confessional, anti-intellectual, anti-Means of Grace, and anti-clergy.

11.  Levels of Christian faith taught by Pietists lead to the distinction between “mere believers” and “soul-winners” or “disciples.”  See the quotations on Pietism and Making Disciples at the end of this essay.

 

EFFECTS OF PIETISM

 

a. Rationalism

The term “unionism” comes from the Prussian Union, when the Calvinists and Lutherans were forced together at the expense of Lutheran doctrine and practice.  Unionism in Europe encouraged a rationalistic approach in theology.  The rationalism of the historical-critical method of studying the Bible is laughed at today, but the effects have taken root in the ELCA and in much of the LCMS.  Blame Pietism.

 

"Meanwhile, back in Europe the corrosive effects of Pietism in blurring doctrinal distinctions had left much of Lutheranism defenseless against the devastating onslaught of Rationalism which engulfed the continent at the beginning of the 19th century.  With human reason set up as the supreme authority for determining truth, it became an easy matter to disregard doctrinal differences and strive for a 'reasonable' union of Lutherans and Reformed."

            Martin W. Lutz, "God the Holy Spirit Acts Through the Lord's Supper," God The Holy Spirit Acts, ed., Eugene P. Kaulfield, Milwaukee:  Northwestern Publishing House, 1972, p. 176.

 

b. Anti-clericalism

The Church Growth experts in WELS, LCMS, and ELCA have promoted cell groups because their Fuller mentors have told them it will stop the rapid numerical decline of their synods. 

 

"Wouldn't it be terrible to sleep through the Second Reformation?  Cell Group Churches.  The New Lifestyle For New Wineskins.  Cell Group Churches Are Really Different!  A 'Cell Group' Church is built on the fact that all Christians are ministers, and that there is no 'professional clergy' hired to do the work of ministry.  According to Ephesians 4, God has provided 'Gifted Men' to equip 'Believers Who Are Gifted' to do the work of ministry...The life of the church is in its Cells, not in a building.  While it has weekly worship events, the focus of the church is in the home Cells."

            Touch Outreach Ministries, P.O. Box 19888, Houston, TX  77079, 1-800-735-5865.

 

"Pietist preachers were anxious to discover and in a certain sense to separate the invisible congregation from the visible congregation.  They had to meet demands different than those of the preceding period:  they were expected to witness, not in the objective sense, as Luther did, to God's saving acts toward all men, but in a subjective sense of faith, as they themselves had experienced it.  In this way Pietism introduced a tendency toward the dissolution of the concept of the ministry in the Lutheran Church."

            Helge Nyman, "Preaching (Lutheran): History," The Encyclopedia of the Lutheran Church, 3 vols., ed. Julius Bodensieck, Minneapolis:  Augsburg Publishing House, 1965, III,  p. 1943.

 

c. Anti-intellectualism

Dr. Robert Preus once spoke about the time when the Norwegians decided not to discuss doctrinal issues.  They were avoided for fear of causing conflict.  Missouri grew during its time of greatest doctrinal debate.  Now the conservative Lutheran pastors are afraid of discussing issues in public, because it might hurt the synod…and their careers.

 

“All those doctrinal questions which were not immediately connected with the personal life of faith were avoided.  The standard for the interpretation of Scripture thus became the need of the individual for awakening, consolation, and exhortation.  The congregation as a totality was lost from view; in fact, pietistic preaching was (and is) more apt to divide the congregation than to

hold it together."

            Helge Nyman, "Preaching (Lutheran): History," The Encyclopedia of the Lutheran Church, 3 vols., ed. Julius Bodensieck, Minneapolis:  Augsburg Publishing House, 1965, III,  p. 1943.

 

"One who had experienced the wonder of faith in his inner life is the true witness, even if he had not been called in an external sense according to the order of the church.  It now was relatively easy to introduce lay preaching, though it remained somewhat incompatible with the Lutheran Confessions."

            Helge Nyman, "Preaching (Lutheran): History," The Encyclopedia of the Lutheran Church, 3 vols., ed. Julius Bodensieck, Minneapolis:  Augsburg Publishing House, 1965, III,  p. 1944.

 

d. Anti-Confessionalism

Pietists believe that “doctrinal extremism” will hurt evangelism and missions.  They will says things like this, “I don’t know the answer.  All I know is that Jesus is Lord.”

 

"Pietism greatly weakened the confessional consciousness which was characteristic of orthodox Lutheranism."

            Helge Nyman, "Preaching (Lutheran): History," The Encyclopedia of the Lutheran Church, 3 vols., ed. Julius Bodensieck, Minneapolis:  Augsburg Publishing House, 1965, III,  p. 1945.

 

e. Unionism

Spener, Rosenius, Francke, and others were unionists whose ecumenical efforts brought together people of different confessions.  Muhlenberg studied at Halle, the capital of Pietism, then came to America to do mission work.

 

 "The pietism and unionism of Muhlenberg and his colaborers was the door through which, in the days of Wesley and Whitefield, revivalism had found an early, though limited, entrance into the Lutheran Church."

            F. Bente, American Lutheranism, 2 vols., The United Lutheran Church, Gen Synod, Gen Council, Un Syn in the South, St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 1919, II,  p. 78.

 

"Doctrinal indifference is at once the root of unionism and its fruit.  Whoever accepts, in theory as well as in practice, the absolute authority of the Scriptures and their unambiguousness with reference to all fundamental doctrines, must be opposed to every form of unionism."

            M. Reu, In the Interest of Lutheran Unity, Columbus:  The Lutheran Book Concern,

1940, p. 20.

 

f. Law Domination

Some try to downplay the difference between Lutheranism and Pietism, but Hoenecke, who helped rescue the early Wisconsin Synod from blatant Pietism and unionism, had this to say about the subject:

 

"Wohl scheint auf den ersten Blick die ganze Differenz recht unbedeutend; aber in Wahrheit gibt sich hier die gefaehrliche Richtung der Pietisten zu erkennen, das Leben ueber die Lehre, die Heiligung ueber die Rechtfertigung und die Froemmigkeit nicht als Folge, sondern als Bedingung der Erleuchtung zu setzen also eine Art Synergismus und Pelagianismus einzufuehren. (At first

glance, the total difference seems absolutely paltry, but in truth the dangerous direction of Pietism is made apparent:  life over doctrine, sanctification over justification, and piety not as a consequence but declared as a stipulation of enlightenment, leading to a kind of synergism and Pelagianism.)"

            Adolf Hoenecke, Evangelische-Lutherische Dogmatik, 4 vols., ed., Walter and Otto Hoenecke, Milwaukee:  Northwestern Publishing House, 1912, III,  p. 253.

 

g. Promotion of Cell Groups; anti-Means of Grace

Spener promoted cell groups in his little book, but his followers put them into action and caused tremendous conflict and harm.  Conservative Lutherans now promote cell groups, following the example of Fuller Seminary, Paul Y. Cho, and ELCA.

 

"We probably think first of such groups coming into being in the late 1600s in connection with Pietism.  Spener promoted them as a vehicle by which pious laypeople could be a leaven for good in reforming the 'dead orthodoxy' of a congregation and its pastor."

            Prof. David Kuske, "Home Bible Study Groups in the 1990s," Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly, Spring, 1994.  p. 126.

 

"Furthermore, it must be admitted that the Reformed teaching of the means of grace filtered, particularly through Pietism, also into the Lutheran Church."

            Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, 3 vols., trans., Walter W. F. Albrecht, St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 1953, III,  p. 143.

 

 "In so far as Pietism did not point poor sinners directly to the means of grace, but led them to reflect on their own inward state to determine whether their contrition was profound enough and their faith of the right caliber, it actually denied the complete reconciliation by Christ (the satisfactio vicaria), robbed justifying faith of its true object, and thus injured personal Christianity in its foundation and Christian piety in its very essence."

            Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, 3 vols., trans., Walter W. F. Albrecht, St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 1953, III,  p. 175.

 

"Only little weight is attached to the ministry of the Word, to worship services, the Sacraments, to confession and absolution, and to the observance of Christian customs; a thoroughly regenerated person does not need these crutches at all.  Pietism stressed the personal element over against the institutional; voluntariness versus compulsion; the present versus tradition, and the rights of

the laity over against the pastors."

            Martin Schmidt, "Pietism," The Encyclopedia of the Lutheran Church, 3 vols., ed. Julius Bodensieck, Minneapolis:  Augsburg Publishing House, 1965, III,  p. 1899.

 

h. Making Disciples

The current fad for manufacturing disciples comes from the Reformed concept of the prayer group saving people by providing an emotional experience of “making a decision for Christ.”  Sunday worship is fine, but the real church is the cell group or home study group.

 

"The church is no longer the community of those who have been called by the Word and the Sacraments, but association of the reborn, of those who 'earnestly desire to be Christians'...The church in the true sense consists of the small circles of pietists, the 'conventicles,' where everyone knows everyone else and where experiences are freely exchanged."

            Martin Schmidt, "Pietism," The Encyclopedia of the Lutheran Church, 3 vols., ed. Julius Bodensieck, Minneapolis:  Augsburg Publishing House, 1965, III,  p. 1899.

 

 "Conversion was seen as a one-time act, consisting of God's offer of grace and man's decision to accept it, as 'the breakthrough of grace.'  Perhaps it was not said in so many words; at any rate it was a tacit assumption."

            Martin Schmidt, "Pietism," The Encyclopedia of the Lutheran Church, 3 vols., ed. Julius Bodensieck, Minneapolis:  Augsburg Publishing House, 1965, III,  p. 1899.

 

[Fresenius and levels of Christianity.]

"(As if an unconverted person could seriously pray for conversion!  He should have said:  He must hear the Word of God.  But that he has put into his third rule.  His whole scheme makes conversion dependent on man's own effort to obtain grace.)"

            C. F. W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, trans., W. H. T. Dau, St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 1928, p. 144.

 

 "As a matter of fact, any one who has been quickened, that is, raised from spiritual death, is converted.  After his conversion he must, indeed, pray and wrestle.  His faith at the beginning is like an infant that can easily die if it is not given nourishment.  Praying and wrestling is not an exercise for unconverted, however, but for converted persons."

            C. F. W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, trans., W. H. T. Dau,

St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 1928, p. 144.

 

"What may be the reason why the Pietists, who were really well-intentioned people, hit upon the doctrine that no one could be a Christian unless he had ascertained the exact day and hour of his conversion?  The reason is that they imagined a person must suddenly experience a heavenly joy and hear an inner voice telling him that he had been received into grace and had become a child of God.  Having conceived this notion of the mode and manner of conversion, they were forced to declare that a person must be able to name the day and hour when he was converted, became a new creature, received forgiveness of sins, and was robed in the righteousness of Christ.  However, we have already come to understand in part what a great, dangerous, and fatal error this is."

            C. F. W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, trans., W. H. T. Dau,

St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 1928, p. 194f.

 

[Francke, Breithaupt, Fresenius] "These men were guilty of that more refined way of confounding Law and Gospel.  They did this by making a false distinction between spiritual awakening and conversion; for they declared that, as regards the way of obtaining salvation, all men must be divided into three classes:  1. those still unconverted; 2. those who have been awakened, but are

not yet converted; 3. those who have been converted."

            C. F. W. Walther, The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel, trans., W. H. T. Dau,

St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 1928, p. 363.

 

DEFEATING PIETISM

The best antidote to Pietism is to love what Pietism hates, hate what Pietism loves, do what Pietism avoids, and avoid what Pietism does.

 

Love What Pietism Hates

a.      The Book of Concord.[4]

b.     The Sermons of Luther.[5]

c.      The Lutheran Hymnal.

 

Hate What Pietism Loves

a.      Cell, home study, koinonia, care, share, groups.  Lay-led conventicles.

b.     Books by non-Lutheran authors.

c.      Tongue-speaking.

d.     Fuller Seminary, its crafts and assaults.

 

Do What Pietism Avoids

a.      Sing the liturgy and Paul Gerhardt hymns.

b.     Discuss doctrine.

c.      Relax and enjoy God’s blessings with like-minded friends.[6]

 

Avoid What Pietism Does

a.      Unionism.

b.     Making disciples.

c.      Signing up for a course at Fuller Seminary, the Church Growth Institute, or their clones.

d.     Mission statements, vision statements, and Mission Vision statements.

 

 

PIETISM AND MAKING DISCIPLES

"Follow-up Gap.  The difference between the number of persons who make decisions for Christ in a given evangelistic effort and those who go on to become disciples."

            C. Peter Wagner, ed., with Win Arn and Elmer Towns, Church Growth:  The State of the Art, Wheaton:  Tyndale House, 1986, p. 290.

 

 

 “In the Great Commission, Jesus makes clear that the command to 'go and make disciples' includes the concept of winning [in italics].  Today the term 'discipling' has almost universally evolved to mean the process of spiritual perfecting--tutoring, learning, growing, maturing.  Few 'discipling' programs in churches today accurately reflect Christ's vision to make disciples, or measure

their success on the basis of new disciples they produce."

            Win and Charles Arn, The Master's Plan for Making Disciples, How Every Christian

Can Be an Effective Witness through an Enabling Church, Pasadena:  Church Growth Press,

1982, p. 10.  

 

 "His words, now called the Great Commission, were simply a restatement of His entire life and teaching, as He endeavored to make the matter as simple and easy to understand as possible...'go and make disciples.'"

            Win and Charles Arn, The Master's Plan for Making Disciples, How Every Christian Can Be an Effective Witness through an Enabling Church, Pasadena:  Church Growth Press, 1982, p. 20.

 

 "A new convert's commitment to Christ included the assumption that he/she reproduce themselves and continue in the disciple-making chain. New disciples were instruments used by the Holy Spirit...in making disciples."

            Win and Charles Arn, The Master's Plan for Making Disciples, How Every Christian Can Be an Effective Witness through an Enabling Church, Pasadena:  Church Growth Press, 1982, p. 21.

 

 "His plan for making disciples included more than lesson plans.  It included a relationship.  In fact the quality of that relationship with his disciples had to be one of the primary factors in transforming them into disciplers."

            Pastor Joel C. Gerlach, "The Call into the Discipling Ministry," Yahara Center, April 24-25, 1987, p. 15.

 

"Jesus did not send his disciples out to make disciples without first making them disciples.  He gave them a course in disciple making by making them disciples.  He knew that you have to be a disciple yourself before you can help someone else to become a disciple."

            Pastor Joel C. Gerlach, "The Call into the Discipling Ministry," Yahara Center, April 24-25, 1987, p. 6.

 

 "Doctrines in controversy and applications to those doctrines are a disciple's meat.  They are swallowed only after patient doses of discipling milk.  The art of mission work is to preserve that sequence despite a prospect's desire to chew what he can't swallow."

            Rev. Paul Kelm, "How to Make Sound Doctrine Sound Good to Mission Prospects," p. 3.

 

 

 "In the third place, false teachers flay their disciples to the bone, and cut them out of house and home, but even this is taken and endured.  Such, I opine, has been our experience under the Papacy.  But true preachers are even denied their bread.  Yet this all perfectly squares with justice!  For, since men fail to give unto those from whom they receive the Word of God, and permit the latter to serve them at their own expense, it is but fair they should give the more unto preachers of lies, whose instruction redounds to their injury. What is withheld from Christ must be given in tenfold proportion to the devil. They who refuse to give the servant of truth a single thread, must be oppressed by liars."

            Martin Luther, Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids:  Baker Book House, 1983, VII,  p. 111f. 2 Corinthians 11:19-33; 12:1-9.

 

 "Pastors become disciples so they can make disciples.  As a proud Pentecostal I thought I had everything because I belonged to a Full Gospel church.  Little did I know how much I had to learn until I came together with other pastors--Baptists, Presbyterians, Plymouth Brethren, and Catholics.  As a proud Pentecostal I had to become a humble elder of the church."

Juan Carlos Ortiz, Call to Discipleship, Plainfield:  Logos International, 1975, p. 100.

 

"Every disciple had responsibility over two types of cells, one cell where he formed the lives of the new converts, and another cell where he took the most advanced of those new converts and taught them how to be leaders, knowing that cell would soon be divided and the most advanced disciples put over additional cells.  So came the multiplication."

Juan Carlos Ortiz, Call to Discipleship, Plainfield:  Logos International, 1975, p. 101.

 

 "The cell groups are used to teach sound doctrine...Sound doctrine is not

just belief in the millennium, the rapture, and the tribulation."

Juan Carlos Ortiz, Call to Discipleship, Plainfield:  Logos International, 1975, p. 111.

 

"Everybody brings his testimony.  That is why the cell meetings last four or five or six hours with only five people.  We no longer have time for Sunday morning services.  We're too busy learning sound doctrine to listen to sermons about Nehemiah."

Juan Carlos Ortiz, Call to Discipleship, Plainfield:  Logos International, 1975, p. 113.

 

 "Is the mission of the church to preach the gospel or to make disciples?  The two--preaching the gospel and making disciples--are closely connected.  Making disciples is the goal, or end result, our Lord had in mind.  He does not want any to perish, but all to come to repentance and faith.  He wants all to be saved, to come to a heart knowledge of the truth.  Preaching the gospel (employing the means of grace) is the means by which the Lord will achieve his goal of making disciples and so of gathering in his elect before he returns."

David J. Valleskey, We Believe--Therefore We Speak, The Theology and Practice of Evangelism, Milwaukee:  Northwestern Publishing House, 1995, p. 134.

 

“Your church will grow by God's grace because members will want it to grow in obedience to God's will and because you are using strategy and methodology in making disciples.  Then nongrowth will be called nongrowth, and growth will be accepted as a gift from God."

Waldo J. Werning, The Radical Nature of Christianity, Church Growth Eyes Look at the Supernatural Mission of the Christian and the Church, South Pasadena:  William Carey Library,

1975, p. 159.

 



[1] Every so often I would see Dr. Conrad Bergendoff in the stacks, doing  research on his latest project.  He is still alive, over 100 years old.  He ended up being a reader for my dissertation. 

[2] I am limiting  the term “synod”  to those groups large enough to have a pension fund.  Many Lutheran entities are slipping into history unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown.  Pastor Robet Wehrwein has an excellent study of the smaller groups, available from Martin Chemnitz Press, 409 North German Street, New Ulm, MN, 56073.

[3] I am intrigued by pastors who claim that I “generalize” too much.  Exactly what does one call an essay based upon years of research and many hours of conversation with leaders?  If we say that the Reformation started in 1517 when Luther nailed his theses on the chapel door, is that not a generalization, a gross simplification?

[4] Subscribing to the Confessions is meaningless if one does not believe what they believe, teach, and confess.  One cannot mock Lutheran doctrine in print and say, “I signed a quia subscription to the Book of Concord, the Triglotta no less.”

[5] I have been savagely criticized by Lutheran Pietists for quoting Luther so much. 

[6] Pietistic Danes were called Gloomy or Sour Danes.  Pietists are weighed down by the Law, so they seldom have a relaxed moment.