"The Pietist Leaven,"

God's Gracious Church Renewal of Its Day,

From the Publication of CharisLife Research,

Hans Schnabel, Director, Portland, Oregon

Note: I had only heard about Pietism in a few references, never any teaching in all my days of religious academia about it. What a pity! It could have explained much in my own heritage and even what I saw happening around me. My own grandparents, parents, and uncles and aunts were infuenced by Pietism, yet we couldn't inform others that such was the case! Now we can. We have this documented finally to the point where it cannot be disputed. I am grateful that my mother had contact with Hans Schnabel and CharisLife of Portland, Oregon, supporting CharisLife for years, and acknowledged by him in writing on the ministry's newsletter that arrived at her home by the dozens (which I have in a collection for the future archives of the Heritage Center of our family farm in South Dakota, when, that is, the happy day dawns that my relations deem it worth saving our Scandinavian Pioneer Farm Heritage in God in ways that can be best communicated to the younger generation--a convenient collection of tapes, writings, pictures, letters, films, books, and artifacts, along with classes to teach, and a stage for dramatic presentations and programs based on those materials.)

It is a fact that our scion, Alfred Stadem, whatever his formal education lacked, yet knew of these Pietists in his religious heritage and wrote of them, of which Spener was one.--Ed.

Hans Schnabel:

As the seventeenth century grew old, the winds of the Spirit blew into the close class-rooms where the theologians had tried to settle religion by argument and definition. In spite of men of goodwill like Calixtus, the party of unadulterated dogma (reine Lehre) maintained the ascendancy. Aberrations from the norm of orthodoxy were to be answered by instruments of logic alone. Stiff formalism carried into the pulpit learned disputes far above the understanding of ordinary men.

The religious experts forget a deep, wise saying of Luther: "The heart of religion lies in its personal pronouns."

No attempt was made to meet the real needs of the layman or to supply an outlet for his emotions. He existed just to be indoctrinated! The University of Wittenberg went so far as to claim that the symbolic books of Lutheranism "possessed the force of divinely revealed and binding truth, not only in matters of doctrine, but in all affairs".

The effect of this rigid severity was well expressed by Herder: "Every leaf of the tree of life was so dissected that the dryads [the living essences of the tree] wept for mercy."

Fresh blood flowed into the body ecclesiastic when the "Great Elector" of Brandenburg welcomed the Huguenot exiles [Huguenots were valiant French Protestants that were persecuted, slain by the thousands, and driven out by the thousands by the Catholic king of France and his ministers--Ed.], driven from France by Louis the Fourteenth in 1685.

Then there were the German pioneers of "pietism". The living spirit of the Lutheran faith had been kept alive by popular books like Arndt's "True Christianity," the hymns of orthodox Paul Gerhardt, and the vivid, realistic preaching of such men as Balthasar Schupp and Theophilus Grossgebauer.

Nor must we overlook the contribution of the mystics, the quiet seekers after God. We think of Jacob Bohme, immortalized for English readers by Dr. Rufus M. Jones in his "Spiritual Reformers of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries."

By the close of the seventeenth century these varied constituents--evangelical, mystic, and speculative--blended to form the revival movement generally known as "Pietism." The word originated in 1689 as a term of ridicule (like "Methodists"), but was soon accepted as the usual designation for the followers of Spener and Francke.

In seeking to deepen devotional life and to freform the Church according to the spirit and pattern of the Gospel, they anticipated the English Methodists: "They made a regular business of 'Pietas.'

Werner Mahrholz definds Pietism as 'an energetic reaction against the mechanization and intellectualism of the Evangelical Church and a reversion to the Eckhard tradition of German mysticism, a tradition that was never completely broken off'.

It is fairer, however, to let the Pietists speak for themselves. They have a rich "literature of self-revelation" that is attractively arranged for the modern reader in Mahrholz's anthology, "Der deutsche Pietismus, 1600-1800."

Recent research has revealed intgeresting aspects of Pietism, indicating more cross-fertilization of German life than appears on the surface. It was less isolated than was formerly supposed. A psychological sociological approach throws light on complex phenomena.

Broadly speaking, we may divide Pietists into four main groups:

1. Those who were Church reformers, but realized that regeneration would depend on a minority of laity and clergy; they would act negatively like salt, to preserve the Church from further decay, and positively like leaven, to raise the standard of devotional life and discipleship.

2. Those who had little interest or hope in the Church, but hesitated for secular reasons to cut themselves off as dissenters; they were nominal Churchmen, finding their real spiritual home in the fellowship of the "twice-born," who formed socities for mutual inspiration and uplift.

3. The more thorough-going groups hived off from the official churches altogether; they prized close fellowship and in some cases formed communities where they engaged in business and agriculture.

[In Norway, Hans Christian Hauge led thousands into a deeper devotion, based on a personal salvation, and was a businessman gifted with creative ideas for industry, and commercial operations were started by him which thrived, around which communities formed of Haugeans.].

4. At the outskirts of Pietism and Mysticism there was a tangled undergrowth of uncouth, heretical sects, that flourished rankly in the early eighteenth century.

The normal characteristics of Pietism were as follows:

an eager desire to preach a simple religion of the heart, the expression of an emphasis on the "Second Birth" and the fellowship created between all who shared this experience; the distinction between the quality of life produced by "the converted" and "the worldly" (whether members of the Church or not).

Pietists stressed the devotional reading of the Bible. Where religion was a matter of rote, they called for spiritual intelligence (even in the Reformed Palatinate the ignorant prayed "deliver us from the Kingdom" and in the Creed declared that Christ was "ponsified under Pilate").

(Footnote to this page: Children still suffer from adult mumbling, even in New York. Recent instances: "Harold be Thy Name," "Give us this day our jellied bread"; "Lead us into Penn Station"--Reader's Digest, June 1949)

Pietists sought to bridge the gulf between clergy and laity by dwelling on the "priesthood of all believers" as originally preached by Luther. They urged that Christian discipleship was more than formal acceptance of dogma: it is called for holiness, philanthropy, and evangelism.

The Pietist leaders were men of varied temperaments.

Spener may be compared to Luther, as the man who gave the movement its impetus.

Francke resembles Melanchthon, in so far as he systematized ideas that had been already set going in the experience of believers.

Bengel adapted Pietism to the parochial system.

Thomasius registered the humanitarian impulse of Pietism in better laws.

Arnold's faith was tinged with a gleam of rationalism even more marked than that of Thomasius.

Zinzendorf was inspired by strong emotionalism and a gift for leadership, which impelled him to found a Church whose members were all active missionaries. These men, each in their own way, "digged again the wells of their fathers that the Philistines had stopped" [Isaac had to re-dig the wells that the Philistines filled with rocks to drive the Chosen People away.

This allusion means that dead orthodoxy practicioners, the "Philistines"--whether theologians, clergymen, scholars, teachers, bishops and other members of the Lutheran churches' hierarchy--had clogged with dead formality, arrid intellectualism, rules of legalistic religion, man-made arguments and all sorts of prescriptions that cut off the river of the Spirit in the midst of the churches and in individual believers.

If you don't know what this is talking about, go to a formal, orthodox, liturgical service of any mainline denomination and try to sit there without going to sleep! All that droning, routine, babblings of the printed liturgy by the pastor or priest interspersed by the droning, routine responses of the congregation--is that pleasing to God? It probably puts him to sleep also!--Ed.].


Philipp Jacob Spener, the founder of Pietism, was a native of Alsace (1635-1705). He was the son of a princely Hofmeister, but was strictly brought up. He studied at Strasbourg, then one of the most enlightened German universities.

He cultivated history and philosophy, Hebrew and Greek, as well as theology; and he won his master's degree by a critique of Hobbes (1653). After acting as tutor at the Court of the Palatinate, he visited the universities of Tubingen, Basel, and Geneva.

At Geneva he was impressed by the active part taken by laymen in Church life, and was influence by the mysticism of Labadie.

Jean de Labadie (1610-74) was a French Jesuit who studied Calvin's Institutes and was converted to the Reformed Church. He became a professor at Montauban in 1650 and a pastor at Geneva in 1659.

Spener felt the influence of this distinguished convert before he developed the extremely Puritanical views that brought him into conflict with orthodox Protestants in later life.

On Spener's return to Germany he was appointed principal pastor of Frankfurt-on-Main. There he published the book which launched Pietism as a definite movement--"Pia Desideria" (1675). This was a plea for a renewal of real personal religion on a basis of Luther's principles. It owed much to Arndt's "True Christianity" and Baxter's "Saints" Everlasting Rest."

Spener determined to redeem public worship from the taunt that "in the Lutheran temple there were four dumb idols--the font, the altar, the pulpit, and the confessional". He determined to diminish the "medieval residuum"--Latin Vespers, vestments, intoning, etc. He aimed at bringing freshness and reality into the sanctuary.

Travellers noticed this. So we find Bishop Burnet, at Strasbourg and Frankfurt, approving of the "considerable interval of silence, at the end of the prayers, for private devotions."

Spener realized that personal religion must be enriched by corporate discipleship, if it was to cure those evils that a century of official Lutheranism had failed to remedy. The theologians had been partly responsible for laying exclusive stress upon right opinion; true orthodoxy (Lehre-Reinheit) involved "true living" (Lebens-Heligkeit). Good works and faith, far from being separate, were as closely related as rays to the sun. Christianity was an experience to be shared and practised by the laity--not a mere doctrine to be preached by the clergy and passively accepted by their hearers.

Spener was not content with publishing these "pious wishes" (Pia Desideria); he demonstrated their practical value. He abandoned the stilted diction of the pulpit and preached Christ in simple, direct words; he appealed for conversion and eschewed [rejected or shunned] controversy. The typical sermon of scholastic Lutheranism was a soporific [a sleeping pill!--Ed.], but although Spener was a lengthy and by no means eloquent preacher, there was no complaint of his earnestness and sincerity won him eager hearers.

Converts and inquirers he formed into "Collegia Pietatis," where men and women met regularly to study the Bible, share theie experience, and seek a corporate growth in grace. The ideal was a "band of men, whose hearts God had touched."

While allowing for this release of lay energy (too long pent-up), Spener believed that the Ministry was of divine appointment; but pastors must be sympathetic soul-winners, not penal officials, deferential to the well-born and disciplinarians to the poor.

They must remember that "pastor" means shepherd, and not simply preacher. Pastoral oversight would convert audiences into real congregations. Had this programme been fully carried out, the gulf between the Lutheran Church and the people would have been bridged by fellowship [And who knows how many people's faith might have been preserved and encouraged and grown instead of stifled and driven into hiberation? And who knows how many young people might not have abandoned Christ and the church to go off into the world, rather than sit in pews and gradually dry up die with the others?--Ed].

Spener's name soon became known throughout Germany. In 1686 he was appointed Court Chaplain at Dresden, where High [read "dead" and "informal" and for "High"] Lutheranism was in complete control. His fearless fidelity to what he considered his duty made the Elector of Saxony uncomfortable, but he refused to resign.

In 1691 he was promoted to St. Nicholas, Berlin, where the atomosphere was more congenial. He now held the important position of Head of the Consistory. He seldom appeared in public; he was immersed in writing books and pamphlets, besides answering countless letters asking for spiritual guidance. His innovations were marked by a change of emphasis rather than of doctrine. Like the Apostle Paul, he was accused of 'turning the world upside down' because he preached conversion--the urgent need of the second birth.

Spener's Christ-inspired achievements had the success that they deserved, but his critics were as waspish as he had feared. He was embarassed by the opinions and practices of followers who tended to be one-sided. He gave no encouragement to zealots who over-emphasized the breach between se hallowed (heraldry was Spener's hobby). He stressed conversion, but did not insist on its being immediate. There was a note of eschatological urgency in his preaching, but he was not obsessed, like some Pietists, with the imminent end of the world.

This moderation failed to conciliate orthodox Lutheranism, though Ritschl has maintained that Spener 'was not himself a Pietist'. In 1695 the University of Wittenberg charged him with no less than 264 errors! The previous year, however, witnessed the foundation of a new university, as favourable to Pietism as Wittenberg had been hostile. This was Halle. The patron was the Elector William the Third of Brandenburg, who became the first King of Prussia in 1701.


Spener's friend, August Hermann Francke (1663-1727), was appointed the first Professor of Greek and Oriental languages at Halle. This gave a tremendous impetus to Pietism, as Halle was destined not only to be not only the seed-plot of future Pietist pastors, but also to be the training-ground of a new generation of Prussian officials.

Franke, a native of Lubeck, had the good fortune to be nurtured under the influence of Ernest the pious, who resigned at Gotha between 1640 and 1674. This enlightened Duke, much in advance of his age, has been called 'the pedagogue among the princes and the prince of pedagogues'.

His "Schulordnung (1642) provided that children over five years of age should be sent to school and kept there till they knew German, arithmetic, singing, and catechism. Corporal punishment was abolished, humane methods of teaching were introduced, and adequate arrangements made for the training of elementary teachers.

Francke thus had the privilege of being brought up in a tradition of enlightened pedagogy. But personal experience convinced him that education was not enough for the renewal of spiritual personality.

On a certain red-letter day he was busy preparing a sermon. He suddenly felt conscious of a terrible emptiness; he had received no Divine commission for Christian work. The whole of his past rose up before him in the void of inner darkness.

It was 'as if he were standing on the high tower of Luneberg and looking down on all the houses.'

He prayed in anguish--was there no God and Saviour?

Peace came: 'Henceforth I was in earnest for God, and willing to suffer all for His sake.'

His conversion led to the formation of a Bible-study group among the students of Leipzig--the renowned "Collegium Philobiblicum".

Francke's name was now coupled with that of Spener and became unpopular with the authorities. Driven from Leipzig, he attracted large congregations at Erfurt (including Roman Catholics). His successful preaching resulted in an order to leave the city within forty-eight hours. Spender left Dresden the same year (1691).

[What role does Pietism play regarding America? Stick with this article. Pietism had a great role in America to play, but first it had to be settled and founded in its movement, before it was ready to make a tremendous contribution to the Christian endeavor on the new continent.]

Franke's work at Halle was a conspicuous success. There he preached and lectured between 1694 and 1727. Between 800 and 1,200 divinity students passed through his hands annually--the record for the universities of Germany.

The clergy of Prussia, compelled to study at royal Halle, were steadily leavened with a spirit that was Biblical rather than Confessional. Francke valued 'a drop of true love more than a sea of knowledge...Our aim must be not to built up "scientia," but rather "conscientia.'' He believed that if the Bible was widely read by the laity [common believers], Luther's dreams would come true.

He therefore founded the Canstein Institute (1712), which distributed three million Bibles by the end of the century.

Belief in the power of Scripture to renew mind and heart inspired his educational programme--schools for the nobility, burghers (various grades of middle class merchants and community leaders), artisans, ragged children, and girls (hitherto neglected).

Education led to philanthropy. His orphanage at Halle, started with a slender capital of one pound (about $1.75 today), grew into a chain of charitable institutions that spread throughout Germany--hospitals, dispensaries, almshouses, and 'homes' of every kind. The 'Franke'sche Stiftungen' still exist, to remind us that the founder revived the philanthropic side of pre-Reformation religion, which was destined to flower afresh in the 'Inner Mission' of the 19th century.

Franke's outlook was extra-mural. From his 'lighthouse' (as he called the University of Halle) he looked to the ends of the earth and considered the opportunities that had been seized by Roman Catholics, but neglected by Protestants [reminds me of the neglect of the Bible-based churches of Evangelical beliefs who pretended for too many years the Muslim world did not exist and so it went largely unevangelized; then for two thousand years the Western and Eastern Christians fought the Muslims in Europe and in Asia too, so that since the time of the Byzantines starting in the 7th century there was no evangelization worthy of the name of Christ, giving the Muslim World no alternative for that entire period. Only with Hitler was a hand of friendship offered the Muslim World, and that was because they joined in a jehad against the Jewish race, to exterminate it.--Ed.].

The official Lutheran Churches were not merely apathetic, but hostile to Foreign Missions. Their scholastic leaders argued that the command to 'preach the Gospel to the whole world' applied exclusively tot he Apostles, for only they were qualified by 'Vocatio Immediata'.

Frank was inspired by Leibniz's ' Latest News from China' and adopted many of his ideas. He encouraged Callenberg to found an 'Institutum Judaicum' for training missionaries to the Jews. Then he transmitted the missionary impulse to his friend the King of Denmark; the Halle-Danish mission started in South India and began to issue its famous reports in 1710. Franke's broad-mindedness in adopting the scientific methods of an advanced thinker like Leibniz did not appease the prejudices of orthodox Lutheranism. The Divinity Faculty of Wittenberg denounced missionary advocates as false prophets. In 1722 the hymnologist Neumeister of Hamburg, closed his Ascensiontide sermon by giving out the hymn:

'Go out into the world,' the Lord of old did say;

But now: 'Where God has placed thee,

There he would have thee stay!"

[Terrible hymn! Thus the traditions of men always nullify the commandments of Christ! Neumeister of Hamburg directly contradicted the Lord's command, the Great Commission, and will have to bear responsibility before the Lord at the judgment.--Ed.]

At Halle they preferred to sing Bogatzky's pioneer missionary hymn: 'Awake, thou spirit of the first witnesses!"

Considering the dead-weight of Lutheran prejudices, and the fact that Missions were launched by voluntary effort in a poor country and put into effect without the advantage of starting in a German colony, Francke's pioneer campaign deserves the utmost credit. A door of outlet for heroism was opened, and Luther's doctrine of 'loyalty to vocation' was redeemed from its pedestrian application. German Pietism blazed the trail of Protestant Missions [there you have the importance of German Pietism, or one of chief expressions: Protestant Missions!--Ed.].

Francke looked west and saw the German colonists unshepherded in Pennysylvania [remember the German Hessians, who as mercenary soldiers hired by the British fought against the Colonists' army in the War of Independence? After their defeat by Gen. George Washington, many of the survivors chose to remain in America and become a part of the new nation rather than return to their king and duke-dominated countries. These then needed pastors who knew German, until such time as they could learn English.--Ed.]

Francis Pastorius, a young jurist and a convert of Spener, had founded the Frankfurt Land Company, and built Germantown in 1685, but the settlers were at the mercy of a motley array of cranky sectarians. It was Franke who sent out H. M. Muhlenberg [whose name is now famous as the foremost and earliest Lutheran missionary and churchman.--Ed.] to organize the Lutheran Church in America on the best Pietist lines.

[Pietism thus reached the new nation of America, and would thrive here in this country for generations. The Lutheran Brethren Church is a denomination that has many pietistic features. The strong preaching of the Word of God, the reliance of the free Gift of the Grace of Christ for salvation and redemption, Individual and group Bible study, Bible reading, and prayer, the relative low emphasis on ritual and liturgy in the worship service and the high emphasis on individual faith and practice--these were features of classic Pietism. Though raised in a mainstream Lutheran denomination (which in the 1960s on became deadly formal, ritualistic, and confessional but not devotional), I had personal contact with Lutheran Brethrenism, for one of my uncles was a pastor in that church, and I attended several services, which gave me a new experience, Pietism. Can you identify these features in your own church? They are now taken for granted, but at one time they were nearly extinct. They had to be revived, and now you know how they were restored to the church and the believers in Christ.--Ed.].







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