Yesterday’s post explored the origins of pietism, which originated in the Lutheran Church in Germany as a reaction to a doctrinal, established church of the state which many regarded as lacking in moral and religious fervour.

From Germany, the movement spread throughout Scandinavia, particularly Norway, and to Prussia. It also extended beyond Lutheranism, bringing about a Moravian revival. Lutheran and Moravian immigrants took their pietism to North America. Pietism, however, also influenced the practices of some Calvinists, particularly Anglicans attracted to the preaching of John Wesley and George Whitefield. This, too, was due directly to a Moravian influence which had come to England and Wales.

Wesley’s Methodist movement would eventually inspire further pietism in other churches, mainly those under the Holiness and Pentecostal banners.

John Wesley and the Moravians

At Oxford in 1729, John Wesley’s brother Charles, George Whitefield and other students formed a society called the Holy Club. John Wesley, older and by then ordained in the Anglican Church, had already begun devoting his life to the pursuit of holiness.

The Wesleys, together with the members of the Holy Club, developed a methodical way to achieve what they saw as a sanctified, obedient life. This rigid system of holiness would become known as Methodism.  The word ‘pietist’ was initially used by those critical of the movement; and so it was with the word ‘Methodist’, used against the Holy Club by its critics at Oxford.

The Wikipedia entry on pietism describes the German influence on Wesley as coming from both the Lutherans and the Moravians:

Moravians (e.g., Zinzendorf, Peter Bohler) and Pietists connected to Francke and Halle Pietism.

However, Wesley’s first encounter with their pietism initially occurred not in Germany but on his journey to North America with Charles in 1735.

A storm broke one of the ship’s masts en route to the American colonies. The story has it that, whilst the English (Anglicans and/or Calvinists) panicked, the Moravians on board remained calm by praying and singing hymns.  Their reaction impressed John Wesley, and he befriended them.

Yet, the pietists’ way of life dovetailed with Wesley’s own and that of the Holy Club in Oxford. Therefore, it was natural that he would have been attracted to it.

Once Wesley arrived in the southern colony of Georgia at the invitation of Governor James Oglethorpe to head a new congregation in the city of Savannah, he maintained his connections with Moravian pastors which affected his ministry there adversely.

Common pietist problems: women and the law

Reading biographical details of pietist pastors reveals two common themes: legal and women  troubles.

Wherever a dominant doctrinal and state-established church is in place, pietist pastors have run afoul of the law. As we saw yesterday, the Norwegian Hans Nielsen Hauge spent a number of years in prison for opposing the state church (Lutheran).

We will also see another Lutheran example — involving women — in a few days’ time.  Further on in this post is a Welsh example.

Wesley also experienced problems in Georgia. Many settlers were Anglicans and, as such, opposed to his Methodism. However, he also became romantically involved with Sophia Hopkey, a woman who sailed from England on the same ship as the Wesley brothers. A Moravian pastor advised Wesley against further involvement.

Hopkey maintained that Wesley promised that he would marry her. However, she went on to marry another — William Williamson — and, attending Wesley’s church with her new husband, presented herself at the Lord’s Table for Communion. Wesley refused to give Mrs Williamson the Sacrament.  This was an act which had grave overtones for a congregant’s or guest’s personal character.

The couple filed a lawsuit against Wesley, who stood trial, although the case was dismissed.  Mr Williamson filed another suit against Wesley in an attempt to forbid his leaving Georgia. However, a shaken and debilitated Wesley managed to return to England, escaping the law.

Wesley’s return to England — more Moravian influence

Upon his return to England, John Wesley continued his Moravian associations.

Moravians in London worshipped in Aldersgate Street, then at the Fetter Lane Society, which Peter Böhler established in 1738. Both Wesleys and George Whitefield, as well as other Anglican clergy and laypeople, began attending Moravian services.

Although technically Anglican, John Wesley and George Whitefield were no longer allowed to preach in certain Church of England parishes. They had strayed too far from the established Church.

It was in Aldersgate Street that Wesley had a profound religious experience whilst listening to a reading of a Martin Luther sermon introducing St Paul’s letter to the Romans. He travelled to Germany to study at the Moravian headquarters in Herrnhut.

Upon his return, Wesley would go on to help to devise the polity of the Fetter Lane Society and publish a hymnal for them.

Eventually, however, Wesley and the Moravians broke their association over disagreements about assurance and faith. Some at the Fetter Lane Society believed in a type of quietism — a ‘let go and let God’ philosophy — of doing nothing until they felt they had the full assurance of salvation.  Wesley rightly pointed out that this was heretical, which it is. He tried to impress upon the group the importance of nurturing a relationship with God through prayer, worship and study.

Pietistic worship style and revivalism

The Moravian worship style at the Fetter Lane Society was typically pietistic, inducing meaningful religious experiences, surges in emotion and a subjective notion of the presence of God.

This emotionally- and self-absorbed style of worship would become part of the First and Second Great Awakenings, which adopted an enthusiastic and revivalistic preaching style. It is one of the reasons that some Anglicans and social critics made fun of it.

As mentioned earlier, Wesley and Whitefield were restricted in what Anglican parishes they could preach. In 1739, Whitefield began preaching in the open air near Bristol to miners and encouraged Wesley to join him. Initially reluctant, Wesley went along two months later to preach outdoors in the same location.

Both men were powerful preachers, stirring the soul to give that characteristically pietistic sensation of an inner stirring — a notional religious experience which makes the listener feel a divine presence.

In pietism — then as now — doctrine matters little. Sermons are intended to be sensational and  personal in order to encourage repentence and to goad one into a manmade pursuit of holiness.

The Second Great Awakening of the 19th century would bring revivals and their enthusiasm to full fruition. Preachers like Charles Finney in the United States would capitalise on this, lending a Pelagian flavour to certain independent Evangelical and Bible churches springing up throughout America.

Lay and itinerant preachers with little to no formal training would travel from town to town spreading their message, collecting money from the crowds to finance their ministries and sometimes dupe followers in the process.

Methodist polity and popularity in western England and in Wales

After joining Whitefield in Bristol in 1739, Wesley noted that he lacked preachers. Nonetheless, he opened Methodist chapels in the area and would later return to London to do so there.

In order to have enough preachers to serve the chapels, and as he (as an Anglican priest) was under no authority to ordain any, Wesley decided that laymen were the answer. Indeed, the Methodist movement expanded rapidly as a result. The Methodist Church relies heavily on lay preachers to this day.  They preach and do pastoral work. For many Methodists lay preachers are the pastors in most respects.

By 1744, the Methodist movement had grown to such a size that a formal organisation and doctrine needed to be arrived at. However, 18 months prior to Wesley’s first conference to decide such matters, the Welsh — under the chairmanship of George Whitefield — organised their first Methodist Association. They would organise the movement in Wales into districts.

The Welsh also had Anglican preachers — some of whom had also studied at Oxford — who subscribed to a Methodist way of life. As such, they, too, preached at outdoor revivals. Whitefield would encourage and mentor the Welsh movement, which had its beginnings in 1735.

It was that year when Howell Harris had an awakening during an Easter church service and decided to begin holding services in his own house.  He had wanted to pursue ordination as an Anglican priest but was refused because his approach was too Methodist. Like Wesley and Whitefield, Harris found pietism the pathway to holiness.

Harris ran into much difficulty, even physical danger, because of his religious views but he continued to travel around Wales preaching in a deeply moving style which attracted many people.

However, he, like a number of other pietist pastors, experienced problems with the opposite sex. Harris had developed a close friendship with a wife and mother, Sydney ‘Madam’ Griffith.  Mrs Griffith’s marriage was an unhappy one. Already a devotee of Methodism, hearing Harris’s preaching in 1748 further moved her emotionally.  She made Harris’s acquaintance as well as that of his Methodist associate, Daniel Rowland, another prominent preacher of the day.

Wikipedia states:

For a short time, Madam Griffith was Harris’s constant companion. Although she had made considerable financial contributions to the Methodist cause, she was left without any income following her separation from her husband. Soon her health deteriorated, and Harris took her to London, where she died (her husband having died three months earlier).

Before she died, however, their association had become quite public and scandalous. As a result, Harris had returned to his home in Treveca in 1752.  Following the Moravian example, he established a religious community there called Teulu Treveca (‘The Treveca Family’), where he presided as ‘father’.

However, in 1763, Harris resumed public preaching and is considered the founder of the Presbyterian Church of Wales, also known as the Calvinistic Methodist Church.  To many, this name will appear an oxymoron.  It combines Calvinist doctrine with Methodist polity and practice.  I cannot but help wonder whether the influence of this church on the Welsh is one of the reasons they clamour so loudly for Government controls on tobacco and alcohol.

Back now to Wesley’s first conference in 1744. Whereas the Welsh Methodists had organised districts, Wesley organised circuits, which exist to this day in the Methodist Church. In fact, the first men to make the rounds of regional congregations rode on horseback — as did Wesley — and were called circuit riders.

Wesley wanted his lay preachers to move to a new circuit every two years, making them ‘itinerant’. Even today, many orthodox Christians disparage ‘itinerant preachers’ for this reason, asking, ‘What formal theological training do they have? What is their history? Where are they from?’

As for the possibility of ordained ministers, the Wesleys knew that the chasm between them and the Church of England was growing ever wider and deeper. The brothers both stayed in the Church of England and were loth to leave it or to cause too much offence. When John Wesley laid hands on an Anglican priest, Thomas Coke, in order to appoint him Superintendent of Methodists in the United States, he also ordained two presbyters to accompany him across the Atlantic. Afterward, Charles begged John to stop:

before he had “quite broken down the bridge” and not embitter his [Charles’] last moments on earth, nor “leave an indelible blot on our memory.”

Wesley and Whitefield part ways theologically

It is sometimes unclear to the casual reader exactly where Whitefield ended up on the theological spectrum. As he was part of the First Great Awakening and was an emotive, charismatic preacher, not to mention connected with Wesley, some might think that Whitefield stayed within Methodism.

However, he never really left his Calvinistic roots and eventually separated theologically from Wesley — as did his proteges in the Calvinistic Methodist Presbyterian Church of Wales. That said, the two ministers remained good friends. Whitefield’s patron was Selina, Countess of Huntingdon.

Sanctification and holiness

Wikpedia’s entry on John Wesley states:

Wesley taught that sanctification was obtainable after justification by faith, between justification and death. He did not contend for “sinless perfection”; rather, he contended that a Christian could be made “perfect in love”. (Wesley studied Eastern Orthodoxy and particularly the doctrine of Theosis). This love would mean, first of all, that a believer’s motives, rather than being self-centred, would be guided by the deep desire to please God. One would be able to keep from committing what Wesley called, “sin rightly so-called.” By this he meant a conscious or intentional breach of God’s will or laws. A person could still be able to sin, but intentional or wilful sin could be avoided.

Secondly, to be made perfect in love meant, for Wesley, that a Christian could live with a primary guiding regard for others and their welfare. He based this on Christ’s quote that the second great command is “to love your neighbour as you love yourself.” In his view, this orientation would cause a person to avoid any number of sins against his neighbour. This love, plus the love for God that could be the central focus of a person’s faith, would be what Wesley referred to as “a fulfilment of the law of Christ.”

Wesley believed that this doctrine should be constantly preached, especially among the people called Methodists. In fact, he contended that the purpose of the Methodist movement was to “spread scriptural holiness across England.”

However, it would seem that his subsequent followers — including some Methodists I knew in the United States — had a different notion of holiness. Alcohol was often eschewed and even actively discouraged for non-Methodists, to be covered in the next post which concerns the 19th century temperance  movement, also associated with Wesleyanism.

Wesley Covenant Prayer and pietism

Early each January, Methodist churches in Britain and the Commonwealth hold a Covenant service, open to all. I have attended three and recommend that those who are interested go at least once.  This is at least one service during the year where more traditional hymns and liturgy are used.

The purpose is to affirm aloud one’s covenant with God. To this end, everyone recites in unison a special prayer known as the Wesley Covenant Prayer, said to be influenced by pietism.

The traditional form of the prayer is as follows:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.

Next week: The Holiness movement, temperance and Pentecostalism