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Yesterday’s post on Dwight Moody mentioned how popular his sermons and the hymns of his associate Ira D Sankey were with Swedish pietists.

Although neither visited Sweden, their influence, particularly between 1875 and 1880 during a time called ‘Moody Fever’, is still acknowledged today, as we’ll see.

A group of Swedish pietists in the United States publish a journal called Pietisten (Pietist), based in Minneapolis (emphases mine):

We are ecumenical and do not formally represent any institution, but we draw heavy inspiration from the collective heritage of Lutheran Pietism, as represented in a congenial flock of historically-related traditions: the Evangelical Covenant Church and Svenska Missionskyrkan (Mission Covenant Church of Sweden), the Augustana Lutheran heritage (ELCA), the Evangelical Free Church, and the Baptist General Conference, and epidemics of Pietism within the Congregationalist and Methodist folds. Pietisten is the spiritual heir of a Swedish devotional newspaper of the same name, published between 1842-1917 by George Scott, Carl Olof Rosenius, and Paul Peter Waldenström – a Methodist, a Lutheran and a Covenanter, respectively. Although participation by clergy and scholars is frequent, the journal is intended for lay people, and we write as lay people. The format of our journal is based on what were regular or frequent elements of the original Pietisten: commentaries on the lectionary texts by Luther, Rosenius, Waldenström, and others, ecclesiastical concerns, theological discussions, hymns, poetry, selected news items and a healthy dose of humor.

This Pietisten article, ‘The Pietist Impulse’, by Managing Editor Phil Johnson (unlikely to be the pastor of the same name with John MacArthur’s Grace To You ministries) gives a brief history of the movement from its origins in Sweden and in light of a conference held in 2009. Excerpts follow:

Thanks to recent scholarship, in particular the work of David Gustafson in D.L. Moody and Swedes, I have rediscovered the deep ecumenical impulse among Swedish people who referred to themselves as “Mission Friends” and to whom many refer to today as the “Swedish pietists.”

… It appears that the Scottish Methodist, George Scott, who founded Pietisten and enlisted Rosenius as editor in 1842 and then turned Pietisten over to Rosenius when he, Scott, was required to leave Sweden, did not have a sense for the negative implications the word pietist had for Swedes.

I don’t think many people were talking about or claiming to be pietists when we first published this journal in 1986. I may be wrong. I know it seemed a bit strange to me at the time to simply assert that we were pietists. I’d not used that term to refer to myself before. Among other things, the term immediately suggested abstinence which was not my practice

My first response has been that, at heart pietism really means putting the personal above everything. This means trusting and understanding personal life as the foundation of everything …

It is the case that there were actual people who generated and joined a movement called pietism starting in Germany with Philip Jacob Spener about 1675 … There is also a posture or spirit involved in the pietist motto referred to by Mark Safstrom: “in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and all things charity” opens inclusion to many non-historically connected Christians and others, not Christian, who take that posture and exude that spirit.

At the conference, folks claiming, or at least exploring, and, it seemed clear, displaying that spirit and who had authentic “historical, blood” membership were the mainly Swedes including our hosts, the General Conference Baptists, the Evangelical Covenant, the Evangelical Free Church, the Augustana heritage Lutherans, the Norwegian Lutheran Brethren from the Hauge connection, Swedish Methodist, Methodists, and others who were not Swedish but had German or Moravian connections. This list is not exhaustive …

Pietist[s] should expect that kind of conference given the foundation laid and the spiritual tenor described by Spener in Pia D[e]sideria (Pious Wishes) and lived out by the Moravians and the Swedish conventicles, and the Lutherans, especially those of the Evangelical Foundation …

David Gustafson’s recent study reveals how these Swedes reflected the influence and understanding of Christian life from D. L. Moody. Moody was responsible for actual ecumenical Christian life

This genuine, grass roots ecumenical spirit and cooperation began to falter late in the 19th century as doctrines, especially prophetic doctrines, became, for some—perhaps many, decisive matters of Christian belief. My unstudied picture is that the Free made pre-millenialism mandatory as well as verbal inspiration as well as set apart behavior (no smoking, drinking or make-up) and the Baptist added believer baptism as decisive. The Covenant was filled with many people of the same convictions as the Free and the Baptists. My parents shared the convictions of both and yet felt no difficulty claiming Covenant standing.

It is easy to see that ecumenicity faltered. Once I began to grow in education and understandingI began to move away from the Free and the Baptist influence and did not want anyone to confuse me with them. My ecumenical interests grew stronger and stronger in a different direction, toward an inclusivity that I did not believe possible in the Free or the Baptists or in the Covenant. However, in the Covenant I could claim freedom from assenting to any creed or articles of belief and had the right to freely identify in spirit with others

Not only did I find the Moody connection of interest, but also the move in the late 19th century towards a fundamentalist and holiness perspective, which two posts of mine early next week will address in more detail in a broader American context.

The firming up of beliefs during this time might have also been influenced by America’s Second Great Awakening, including the Wesleyan holiness movement and Charles Finney’s revivals preaching a personal ability to achieve salvation. Therefore, the search for distinctives in prophecy-focussed, personal experience and greater notional holiness through set-apart behaviours became more essential. Although these were fundamental elements of pietism from the start, it’s interesting that pietists also felt the need to ramp them up along with other denominations.

That said, inferring that Swedish pietists were also politically conservative might not necessarily follow.  I have read a few of their sites — Pietisten and the Baptist General Conference (BGC) Clarion — where a generous, considered spirit seems to prevail.

What follows is an insight to Swedish pietism from the early days in Sweden and the pioneer days of America from the BGC Clarion of June 2007. In their homeland, they were known as Läsare, ‘the readers [of the Bible]’.

These excerpts are from a Baptist point of view. Emphases in the original.

Dr Virgil A Olson on the seven marks of the Baptist Pietist (pp 3, 4, 5):

A. A central mark of the early Baptists pietists was that the Bible is the final authority for faith and living. The Läsare accepted the Bible as being more authoritative than the Confessions and the Declarations of the Church. F. O. Nilsson stood before the high court of Sweden in Jönköping and declared that he followed the Bible, not the mandates of articles and confessions of the church …

The pietists from Sweden were committed followers of the Book, the Bible. And that mark is true this day for the Baptist General Conference. The “Affirmation of Our Faith”, that is of the Baptist General Conference, states in Article One, The Word of God is “the supreme authority in
all matters of faith and conduct” …

B. A second mark of the pietistic church is that it was to be composed only of born again believers. In Sweden to be a Christian was the same as being a citizen of the Kingdom. For when a baby is baptized in the Lutheran church, the child not only is declared a Christian but also is declared a citizen of the Kingdom of Sweden. Therefore, when the Läsare and the separatist, like the Baptists, preached the New Birth in Christ, and that only born again believers should belong to the church, they were considered radicals. It was this belief that got [Anders] Wiberg into trouble. He refused as a priest to offer communion to his parishioners who were not born again believers.

The early Swedish Baptist Pietists were strong on having revivalistic meetings. Many of the churches in Iowa and Minnesota were born in times of revival …

C. A third mark of the pietistic church was that it laid strong emphasis on living lives separated from the worldly life style. The Pietistic Läsare displayed a Christian life-style that was opposite to behavior of the general population in Sweden. One story is told about the early Baptist days in Sweden. Often the Baptist meetings in the homes would be broken into by the police, many of the people would be arrested and put in jail because they were worshipping as Baptists.

So, at least it is told of one Baptist group, that when they met around a table in a home for Bible reading and prayer, they would have whiskey and wine bottles under the table. When the police came knocking on the door, the worshippers would hide their Bibles and place the bottles on the table. The police became embarrassed when they saw the bottles, and said, “We thought you were Baptists meeting here, but you all seem to be Lutherans” …

D. A fourth mark of Swedish Baptist Pietists was their strong feeling to be independent. The Läsare in Sweden separated themselves from the Lutheran State Church. In no way would they be dictated to or religiously and politically controlled by the approved church priests and hierarchy. And when the pioneers came to America, they carried with them this spirit of independent separatism.

The Swedish Baptists were assisted in many ways in the early days of their history by the American Baptists. The Home Mission Society gave financial assistance to many of the early missionary preachers and the Foreign Mission Society paid for most of the support of the Swedish Baptist young people, providing a place of service in the foreign fields occupied by the American Baptists. The American Baptists gave generously to the building of several Swedish Baptist churches and during the early years of Bethel’s history, the American Baptist Convention generously supported the Academy and the Seminary.

While the Swedes were appreciative of this generous help, they resisted joining up with the American Baptists, not wanting to be controlled by the larger, more powerful Baptist denomination. There was something in their Swedish, separatist heritage that looked with suspicion upon a larger church taking charge of a smaller, Baptist fellowship. The Swedish Baptists clung to their identity of separatism, independence …

E. A fifth mark of the Pietists, was their strong emphasis on the atonement, especially stressing the blood of Jesus. The Pietists had a strong view of sin, so the story of the “old rugged cross” was always appealing. The Swedish Baptist Pietists loved to sing the gospel songs, “There is power in the blood,” “There is a fountain filled with blood,” “What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Many of the gospel songs had been translated into the Swedish language …

F. A sixth mark of the Pietists was that prayer was an important part of their spiritual life. Bönemöte, the Prayer meeting, was an important part of the Swedish Baptist church life. Many of the pioneer churches were in rural areas. Some of the farmers worked hard all day, then they walked two, three, up to six miles one way to come to prayer meeting …

Well, the old fashioned “Bönemötte” is gone. But the spirit of prayer still exists among the Conference Baptists. The Fire and Reign movement in our churches is a strong prayer “fire.” Thank God.

G. A seventh element of Pietist principles was a commitment to the “irenic spirit.” Pietists generally were committed to the irenic spirit? The irenic spirit or attitude, did manifest itself among the Läsare in Sweden because the Pietists believed strongly that Christ had admonished them to be disciples of love. However, because they were often beaten, imprisoned for their faith, challenged in their beliefs, the early Baptists became formidable debaters, defending the Bible and its teaching about being born again, being baptized by immersion upon confession of faith, and forming separatists congregations, where they could worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience as they believed they were led by the Holy Spirit …

Tomorrow: Rosenius and Scott’s influence on Swedish pietism

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