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Philip Jacob Spener: The Father of Pietism

Have you heard something like this? "The culture is changing and many are leaving or not coming to churches because they are finding answers elsewhere." If so, you might be living in 2005, or in 1675. In the mid-1600s, Christianity was in dire straits in Germany. But one man introduced a Christian movement which partly reversed this trend and lives on today in various roles: Philip Jacob Spener and Pietism.

Martin Luther ignited the Protestant Reformation (in the early 1500s), yet a century-and-a-half later much of the spiritual enthusiasm had left German churches. Into this situation Spener (1635-1705) was born. He was a Lutheran minister and pastored churches in Strasburg, Frankfort, and Berlin.

While at Frankfurt he began to hold weekly Bible studies in his home and to concentrate his efforts on renewing Christians in Germany. In 1675, he published his most popular book: Pia Desideria (Pious Desires). In it he laid out the basic ideas of Pietism, a movement designed to focus Christians on their inner lives and, subsequently, to both stimulate Christian action and to revitalize churches. It might best be described as "practical Christianity."

The main thrust of his book is a chapter entitled "Proposals to Correct Conditions in the Church." In this chapter he gives six remedies.

First: Christians need to delve deeper into the Bible in such a way that it becomes part of their lives. "The more at home the Word of God is among us, the more we shall bring about faith and its fruits."

Second: Christians should encourage, comfort, minister to, and pray for each other more often. "Every Christian is bound not only to offer himself and what he has . . . (but) to chastise, exhort, convert, and edify (others), to observe their life, pray for all, and insofar as possible be concerned about their salvation."

Third: Being a Christian not only involves knowledge of Christ and the Bible, but action as well. "It is by no means enough to have knowledge of the Christian faith, for Christianity consists rather of practice."

Fourth: Spener said it best: "We must beware how we conduct ourselves in religious controversies." 150 years before Spener, Catholics killed Protestants, Protestants killed Catholics, and Protestants killed each other. As the Civil War is to us, that time of religious violence was to Spener; he knew the reality of unchecked religious anger.

Fifth: Clergy need to receive both religious education and training in holiness. "(A) holy life is not of less consequence than diligence and study, indeed that study without piety is worthless."

Sixth: The focus of sermons should not only be theology and doctrine but practical advice and encouragement. "Our whole Christian religion consists of the inner man or the new man, whose soul is faith and whose expressions are the fruits of life, and all sermons should be aimed at this. On the one hand, (sermons) should be presented in such a way that faith, and hence the inner man, may ever be strengthened more and more. On the other hand, works should be so set in motion that we may by no means be content merely to have the people refrain from outward vices and practice outward virtues . . . (but) accustom the people first to work on what is inward and only then to act accordingly." Or as Jesus said, "First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside will also be clean." (Matthew 23:26)

©2005 Mark Nickens All Rights Reserved