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Yesterday’s post looked at the influences that geography, the Eastern Orthodox Church and politics had on Jan Hus and his fellow citizens in a Bohemia which was united at the time with Moravia.

The story left off with Hus in a prime position as an ordained priest and rector of the University of Prague. Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Prague’s importance was lessening and, in 1411, he died. Religious dissent was growing with many citizens wishing for a return to the type of worship and polity they had under the Eastern Orthodox Church, which has Christianised them. Helping further fan the flames were renegade priests such as Conrad Waldhauser (Steikna), John Milicz, of Kremsier in Moravia; and Matthias of Janow.  Waldenses had also established themselves in the area, having fled Strasbourg some years before.  All were promoting a theology which was Waldensian and pietist.

Bohemians, Hus and schism

John Wycliffe‘s writings became increasingly important in northern Europe. Wealthy Bohemian and German travellers to England — yes, there were some — were able to bring back copies of Wycliffe’s works to Bohemia.  Wycliffe’s theology, being oriented to Scripture and prayer, became increasingly important to people living in the region as an antidote to the excesses of the papacy, indulgences and clergy.

Hus (shown at left, courtesy of Wikipedia) borrowed heavily from Wycliffe’s teachings in his speeches and writing. In 1412, some theologians from the University of Prague opposed Hus’s support of Wycliffe.  Successive popes had issued papal bulls forbidding mention of or belief in Wycliffe’s teachings.  A group of his followers took it upon themselves to burn the papal bulls, insisting that Hus — not the Pope — was their spiritual leader.

Then, three men from the lower class openly denounced indulgences. The authorities arrested and beheaded them. They are considered to be the first Hussite martyrs.

Hus’s teachings were then officially forbidden, although, by then, the University of Prague theologians ignored the edict and asked that any objections be proven scripturally. The conflict between Church and State against Hus had escalated. Meanwhile, everyone in or near Prague was aware of it. Hus and his followers also wanted tensions to calm down and asked for freedom in ecclesiastical matters — a teaching borrowed from Wycliffe.

By then:

Bohemian Wyclifism was carried into Poland, Hungary, Croatia, and Austria.

In 1413, Rome declared that Wycliffe’s works must be burnt.

Hus’s final months

The following year, King Wenceslaus’s brother — Sigismund of Hungary (heir to the Bohemian crown) — promised Hus safe passage if he would attend the conference at Konstanz (Constance) in order to resolve the schism.

Hus agreed and wisely got his personal affairs in order before leaving home.  For a few weeks, he was free in Konstanz as Sigismund had promised, until his opponents hunted him down and eventually imprisoned him in a Dominican monastery. Sigismund was angry upon hearing the news, but Church authorities replied that promises made to a heretic (Hus) could not be guaranteed.

Hus was transferred to the Archbishop of Konstanz’s castle on the Rhine River and imprisoned for 73 days under brutal conditions.  In June 1415, he was transferred to a Franciscan monastery before he went on trial. During his trial, Church authorities asked him to recant Wycliffe’s teachings. Hus replied that he wished to debate with them Wycliffe’s teachings versus those of the Church, using Scripture. He said that should the clerics prove him wrong, he would be glad to recant. They refused his offer and he refused to recant.

He was burnt at the stake, with these words:

God is my witness that the things charged against me I never preached. In the same truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and preached, drawing upon the sayings and positions of the holy doctors, I am ready to die today.

The aftermath – conflict

In 1457, a group of Hus’s followers organised themselves as the Bohemian Brethren, or the Unity of the Brethren — Unitas Fratrum being the original name.  Ten years later, the Waldensians ordained the Brethren’s bishop.

Hus’s movement spread to the extent that 90 per cent of those living in Czech crown lands — including the nobility — became Protestant.  They opened their own schools, many of which had more than one teacher — unusual for that period in history. Also unusual were their schools for girls. The University of Prague was also Protestant.

To counter this, the Holy Roman Emperors invited the Jesuits to establish Catholic schools in the region, which they did, beginning in 1566.  By 1622, with the backing of the Holy Roman Empire, the Protestant schools were forced to close. The Protestants had rebelled a few years earlier in the Bohemian Revolt, which occurred when the Emperor Matthias attempted to instal a Catholic as King of Bohemia, but were defeated in 1621.  Not only had Protestant education and civil authority had come to a close, but the Holy Roman Emperor forbade the use of the Czech language, including the reading of books in that language.

Consequently, the Brethren had to flee or go underground. One community went to Poland and the other dispersed into smaller groups in Moravia.  This latter group became known amongst them as the Hidden Seed.

The Hidden Seed and Count von Zinzendorf

Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf und Pottendorf, Imperial Count of Zinzendorf and Pottendorf, (1700 – 1760), German pietist and bishop of the Moravian Church, was born in Dresden. He was known as Ludwig.

The Zinzendorf family were Lutheran pietists and among the longstanding nobility of Lower Austria. Despite its name, Lower Austria is actually in the northeastern corner of the country. Young Ludwig’s godfather was Philipp Jakob Spener, one of the foremost Lutheran pietists. As I mentioned previously (emphases mine):

Spener studied theology in Strasbourgthen moved on to see what the Calvinists and the Waldensians were doing in Geneva. There he met a number of professors and pastors who deeply impressed him …

In 1686, Spener became a royal chaplain and was transferred to Dresden. He mentored a group of young theologians in Leipzig in a society he formed there for devout application and practice of biblical principles. Later, he ended up founding the University of Halle, which was based on pietistic theology. Not all went smoothly; a number of pastors in Leipzig opposed his pietism and made a stance for orthodox Lutheran doctrine and practice.

Like Spener, the Zinzendorfs — along with a number of other Lutherans — believed that Lutheranism had lost its way since the days of Martin Luther. They did not believe the clergy engaged people enough to pursue a holy and righteous life.

When Ludwig was only six weeks old, his father died. The child was raised by a pietist grandmother and aunt. His grandmother did much to bring him into the Christian faith — and pietism.  He attended school in Halle, a pietist stronghold, thanks to Spener’s influence. Note that Spener’s earlier royal chaplaincy had based him in Dresden, where Ludwig was born.

In 1716, Zinzendorf studied law at the University of Wittenberg in preparation for a diplomatic career. He also travelled to the Netherlands, France and Germany. Like his godfather, he, too, visited a variety of Protestant churches and was careful to seek out the holiest of men as his friends.

He married whilst young, but not to his first love, whose family disapproved of the proposed union.  Scholars believe that this disappointment brought him into an even closer pursuit of holiness.  Although Spener died when his godson was only five years old, his teachings must have had a profound influence on the Zinzendorf family, because the young count was determined to further his godfather’s pietism. However, Zinzendorf was also concerned about the excessive rationalism emerging from the new Age of Enlightenment, which would eventually give rise to atheism and deism.

Although Spener never intended to separate from the Lutheran Church, Zinzendorf believed that a true practice of Christianity could come about only through free associations of believers committed to a knowledge and love of Jesus Christ.

When the young Count was 22 years old, a small group of the Hidden Seed from Moravia arrived on  his estate. Their leader asked the Count whether he would countenance accommodating them on part of it. The Count granted permission to these refugees, whose faith was now illegal in their native Moravia and Bohemia, to construct the village of Herrnhut, two miles from the Count’s residence.

Herrnhut still exists today, by the way, as the centre for the Moravians in Germany.

Herrnhut, a refuge for persecuted Protestants

As the established village of Herrnhut became more widely known as a centre for freedom of Christians, a number of other persecuted groups settled there. In time, conflicts about belief arose amongst them.

Nonetheless, Zinzendorf continued putting money and support into the settlement. He was also deeply attached to it and in 1727, compiled the unifying Brotherly Agreement, which the settlers adopted. After that, the village’s popularity increased even further.  Moravian historians note what took place from that point into the early 19th century:

  1. Setting up a watch of continuous prayer that ran uninterrupted, 24 hours a day, for 100 years.
  2. Originating the Daily Watchwords.
  3. Establishing more than 30 settlements internationally on the Herrnhut model, which emphasised prayer and worship, and a form of communal living in which simplicity of lifestyle and generosity with wealth were held to be important spiritual attributes. The purpose of these communities was to assist the members resident there in the sanctification of their lives, to provide a meeting place for Christians from different confessional backgrounds, to provide Christian training for their own children and the children of their friends and supporters and to provide support for the Moravian Mission work throughout the world. As a result, although personal property was held, divisions between social groups and extremes of wealth and poverty were largely eliminated.
  4. Being the first church body to begin missionary work; and
  5. Forming many hundreds of small renewal groups operating within the existing churches of Europe, known as “diaspora societies”. These groups encouraged personal prayer and worship, Bible study, confession of sins and mutual accountability.

All those points certainly characterise the main tenets of pietism: a close watch on one another, small groups, personal accountability within those groups, evangelism, mission work and personal sanctification — sometimes in a radical pietist commune.

Zinzendorf’s Brotherly Agreement, incidentally, still exists today as ‘The Moravian Covenant for Christian Living’.

Radical pietism and lovefeasts

Some time after he established the Brotherly Agreement, Zinzendorf obtained a copy of the Ratio Disciplinae, which was the behavioural guide for the early Unitas Fratrum. He was amazed to see how closely the two aligned.

He proceeded to organise the Herrnhut inhabitants into families. These, however, were not what we call nuclear families today, but ones which he called ‘choirs’, organised by sex, marital status and age. The Count explained that at every age, people need something different from Christ and what better way to obtain it than by impartial group segregation. The concept sounds awful, but similar Moravian communes were established in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (later known for its steel), and in Salem, North Carolina (the other half of which is Winston).  Two positives to note about the American settlements: escaped slaves there were on a par with all the other members and the wealthy occupied the same living quarters as the poorest.

As we know from previous posts on pietism, it is a religion of the ‘heart’, deeply rooted in emotionalism and personal experience rather than a more detached, cerebral exegesis of Scripture. The notion of ‘love’ was — and still is — also emphasised. The Moravian communities were no different.

To this end, at certain times of year, a ‘lovefeast’ was performed. This ritual was also part of other Brethren and Primitive Methodist services on special occasions.  All these groups are pietist. The Primitive Methodists’ lovefeasts featured a potluck — ‘bring a dish to pass’ — which is also part of today’s Alpha groups, originating in the Anglican Church. Alpha also revolves around small groups in many parishes and involves experiential sharing and, to some extent, personal accountability.

Back to the Moravian and Brethren denominations which undertake lovefeasts. Wikipedia describes them as being:

based upon the Agape feast and the meals of the early churches described in the Bible in the Acts of the Apostles, which were partaken in unity and love. It is not, however, to be confused with or serve as a replacement for Communion. Traditionally for European, Canadian, and American Lovefeasts, a sweetened bun and coffee (sweetened milky tea in Germany, Holland and England) is served to the congregation in the pews by dieners (from the German for servers); before partaking, a simple table grace is said. The foods and drinks consumed from congregation may vary tremendously at the Lovefeast and are usually adapted from what the congregations have available. Services in some Colonial-era Lovefeasts, for example, used plain bread and water; some in Salem were even known to have served beer.

The Moravian Lovefeast also concentrates on the singing of hymns, and listening to music which may come from the organ or choir. The songs and hymns chosen usually describe love and harmony. The congregation can also talk quietly with their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ about their spiritual walk with God. Christmas Eve Lovefeasts can become particularly spectacular in the congregation’s choice of music and instrumentation. Many churches also have trombone choirs or church bands play prior to a Lovefeast as a call to service.

A Moravian congregation may hold a Lovefeast on any special occasion, such as the date their church was founded, but there are certain established dates that Lovefeasts are regularly observed. Some of these notable dates include Watch Night, Good Friday, the Festival of August 13th (the 1727 date on which the Moravian Church was renewed or reborn), and Christmas Eve, where each member of the congregation receives a lighted candle at the end of the service in addition to the bun and coffee.

Groups that descend from the Schwarzenau Brethren such as the Church of the Brethren, Brethren Church, Old German Baptist Brethren, and Dunkard Brethren also regularly practice a Love Feast based upon New Testament descriptions of the Last Supper of Christ. The Brethren, however, combine the Agape meal (often consisting of lamb or beef and a bowl of sop) with a service of feetwashing prior to the meal and communion afterward. The term “Lovefeast” in this case generally refers to all three ordinances, not just the meal. Influenced by German Pietists during the early 18th century, the Lovefeast was instituted among Brethren before Moravians adopted the practice.

International Moravian missions

Before the population of Herrnhut reached 300 people, their Moravian missionaries were already on the move, evangelising.  The first were in Europe, but in 1732, they were on a ship to St Thomas (Virgin Islands). They ministered there to slaves as well as to slaveowners. St Thomas had its first Moravian bishop in 1735.

In 1740, they focussed on the (then) British colonies in America, establishing a mission in Dutchess County, New York (where Poughkeepsie is). There, they evangelised among Native Americans, treating them as equals. However, with the advent of the French and Indian Wars, their motives were suspect and the colony of New York expelled them.  The following year, they moved on to Pennsylvania and North Carolina to found the aforementioned Bethlehem and Salem settlements. By 1801, they had reached the state of Georgia, where they established a mission to the Cherokee tribe, until the United States Government resettled the Cherokees in Oklahoma, where the mission continues today under the aegis of the Danish Lutheran Church.

We may well owe our two-day weekend to Count von Zinzendorf, thanks to his exhortations in Philadelphia to respect the Old Testament Saturday Sabbath with time off to listen to additional preaching on the Sunday. (The picture on the left, courtesy of Wikipedia, shows him preaching to all men and women on his mission travels.)

Moravian missions in Australia were transferred in time to the Presbyterian Church. Those in Greenland are now under the auspices of the Lutheran Church.

They also evangelised in South America and Asia, as well as Africa.

Today, the largest concentration of Moravians can be found in Tanzania in Africa.

So, from their earliest days in Herrnhut, Zinzendorf ensured that the Moravians could spread Christianity.

The darker side — sexual imagery, scandal and the Count’s remarriage

Because Zinzendorf was so emotionally involved in religious experience, he began to use rather explicit — if not, to the outsider, blasphemous — sexual references to describe it.

He was preoccupied with our Lord’s wounds from the Cross, describing them as

so moist, so gory

and, astonishingly, in referring to the side wound, called it

the Seitenhölchen (‘little side-hole’). This was tied to his wish to overcome the traditional shame which was attached to sexual organs and acts:

What in the Bible is mentioned an hundred, and more than an hundred Times, but on Account of the Fall, by Reason of Deprivation, is call’d by the hideous name Pudendum; this he (the Saviour) has changed into Verendum, in the proper and strictest sense of that Word: And what was chastised by Circumcision, in the Time of the Law, is restored again to its first Essence and flourishing State; ’tis made equal to the most respectable Parts of the Body, yea ’tis on account of its Dignity and Distinction, become superior to all the rest; especially as the Lamb would choose to endure in that Part his first Wound, his first Pain[6]

Today’s pietists are welcome to disagree with me, but their undue prohibition on behaviour and thoughts brings about a vacuum which only Satan can fill. It would be interesting to find out which branch of Christianity has the most pornography addicts. Personally, I venture that it is the pietists. Only on their blogs and fora do I see such comments as, ‘Brother, I have struggled with this sin  [pornography] for many years and find it to be a daily battle’. To those men in good physical health, I say have a drink, enjoy a quiet smoke and love your wife. The first two are far preferable in moderation than seeking out depraved internet sites or, like Zinzendorf, referring to our Redeemer in such carnal phraseology.

Wikipedia cites a famous Christian hymn which follows this carnal line of thought:

Zinzendorf’s emphasis on the “blood and wounds” is not that different from hymns that are sung today without second thought: “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.”

Well, those lyrics have also given me pause for thought in the past, and I am happy that my church does not sing them.

Zinzendorf’s son, Christian Renatus, lived in another commune, Herrnhaag — the Lord’s Grove — and took the imagery further:

he led the Single Brethren’s Choir composed of the unmarried men in the Congregation. Excessive use of sexual imagery, combined with questionable theology of “playing in the Lord,” came to mean that the young men did little work and came to look down on those who were in the mission field laboring for the Kingdom instead of spending every moment adoring the Savior. Ensuing scandal and near-financial ruin forced Ludwig to chastise his son, bringing him to England. Casimir Count of Isenburg-Buedingen demanded the submission of the Moravians of Herrnhaag to himself, and that they reject their allegiance to the elder Zinzendorf. The entire community rejected this demand, leading to the closure of Herrnhaag beginning in 1750-53.

Christian Renatus died in 1752. Zinzendorf felt a profound loss. Two years before, the Count was almost forced to file for bankruptcy, having spent his fortune on financing Herrnhut and the missions. In 1756, his wife died; she was also a close friend and confidante. However, only a year later, he married Anna Caritas Nitschmann, 15 years younger than he.  Wikipedia explains:

he had been very close [to her] for many years. Anna had for years been spiritual leader of the women of the movement. The marriage was not publicized broadly since Anna was a commoner, and would have been extremely controversial.


Zinzendorf died in 1760.  Anna went to her rest just a few weeks later. Zinzendorf’s son-in-law took his place as head of the Moravian communities.

Soon: More on pietism in other denominations


What follows is a brief history of pietism, a subject to which this blog intends to return with practical, modern examples.

Our churches today are full of ‘holy’ behaviours and small groups meant to reinforce them for the ‘true’ believer. I use these words advisedly, as orthodox Lutherans, Calvinists and Anglicans believe that it is only by grace through faith that a person is saved and comes to share eternal life with Jesus Christ.

The Roman Catholic doctrine

We would do well to begin by reviewing what the Catholic Church teaches on sin, as this will feature throughout this series. The Catholic Church teaches the doctrine of impeccability, whereby it is believed that saints in Heaven and souls in Purgatory awaiting union with God cannot sin. The Catholic Church believes in free will, and, to this end, promotes a faith-plus-works teaching so that adherents will be able to be perfect like Christ.

Christ instructed His followers (Matthew 5:48):

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Indeed, Christian perfection has existed from the early Church through to the present day and in Protestant circles is referred to as pietism. In other words, there are two sides to this story: a) the orthodox Reformation view of sanctification through God’s grace working through us to bear the fruits of our faith and b) the manmade, legalistic Pelagian acts and works towards that end which imply or demand that we can redeem ourselves. The gulf between the two is great.

The Anglican — state church — in Post-Reformation England

A number of state-established churches in northern Europe after the Reformation forbade worship outside the official church setting.  Although the following laws are no longer in force in England, they were deemed necessary at the time:

Religion Act 1592: Under Elizabeth I, anyone 16 and over who failed to attend the Anglican church, encouraged others to follow suit or who met in small groups — conventicles — could be imprisoned without bail. Upon serving their sentence, they were given three months to begin attending the Church of England. If they failed to do so, they had to leave England. This law was temporary and lasted for the term of that particular Parliament.

Conventicle Act 1664: Enacted during the Restoration by Charles II, this law forbade small group gatherings outside of the Church of England. It included all Christians.  It was preceded by the Quaker Act of 1662, obliging all citizens to swear allegiance to the King as well as the Act of Uniformity of 1662 which required the use and rites of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (1662) in all church gatherings. However, a decade later, Charles II would grant permission for a limited number of nonconformist chapels.

Conventicles Act 1670: Parliament passed a law in 1670 forbidding any meeting of small groups or use of a meeting house for worship and assembly outside of the rites of the Church of England. This was to suppress ‘seditious’ conventicles.  Offending laypeople were fined four times less than clergy were.

If you click on the Wikipedia links, you’ll see engravings of nonconformist and ‘seditious’ gatherings taking place out of doors.  This was so the groups could avoid fines and imprisonment.  Pietism and the outdoors are closely linked — as are small groups.

The Lutheran — state church — in Germany

A number of practising Lutherans in the 17th century believed that the established church in Germany was reluctant to promote a lively Christian faith.

The official founder of the pietist movement was Philipp Jakob Spener, born in Alsace (now part of France) in 1635. Spener studied theology in Strasbourg, still the principal city of the region, then moved on to see what the Calvinists and the Waldensians were doing in Geneva. There he met a number of professors and pastors who deeply impressed him.

Spener believed that German Lutheranism had lost its moral and religious focus. He blamed Lutheran orthodoxy for this, which is probably not much different to the theological or intellectual conflicts occurring in other Christian countries today between evangelically-minded and orthodox Christians.

As a pastor in Frankfurt in 1666, Spener decided on a course of action to remedy the situation by holding conventicles, or small groups, in his house. There, he preached sermons and taught from the New Testament. He invited questions from those assembled and engaged in dialogue with them.

In 1675, Spener wrote (emphases mine):

Pia desideria or Earnest Desire for a Reform of the True Evangelical Church, the title giving rise to the term “Pietists”. This was originally a pejorative term given to the adherents of the movement by its enemies as a form of ridicule …

In Pia desideria, Spener made six proposals as the best means of restoring the life of the Church:

  1. the earnest and thorough study of the Bible in private meetings, ecclesiolae in ecclesia (“little churches within the church”).
  2. the Christian priesthood being universal, the laity should share in the spiritual government of the Church
  3. a knowledge of Christianity must be attended by the practice of it as its indispensable sign and supplement
  4. instead of merely didactic, and often bitter, attacks on the heterodox and unbelievers, a sympathetic and kindly treatment of them
  5. a reorganization of the theological training of the universities, giving more prominence to the devotional life
  6. a different style of preaching, namely, in the place of pleasing rhetoric, the implanting of Christianity in the inner or new man, the soul of which is faith, and its effects the fruits of life.

Despite the controversy that this volume generated, a number of Lutheran pastors in Germany followed Spener’s example.

In 1686, Spener became a royal chaplain and was transferred to Dresden. He mentored a group of young theologians in Leipzig in a society he formed there for devout application and practice of biblical principles. Later, he ended up founding the University of Halle, which was based on pietistic theology. Not all went smoothly; a number of pastors in Leipzig opposed his pietism and made a stance for orthodox Lutheran doctrine and practice.

Spener died in 1705, but one of his followers from Leipzig and Halle, August Hermann Francke, helped to spread pietism throughout the northern half of Germany, which is still predominantly Lutheran. This enabled Spener’s godson, Count von Zinzendorf, to revive the Moravian Church in 1727 and to establish Protestant missions.

Wikipedia states:

Spener’s stress on the necessity of a new birth and on a separation of Christians from the world, (see Asceticism), led to exaggeration and fanaticism among some followers. Many Pietists soon maintained that the new birth must always be preceded by agonies of repentance, and that only a regenerated theologian could teach theology, while the whole school shunned all common worldly amusements, such as dancing, the theatre, and public games. Some would say that there thus arose a new form of justification by works.

Because pietism is so personal it became quite popular and began to weaken the state Church. It made its followers feel as if they were actively doing something to achieve their own salvation. In other words, it could be said that it was a form of Pelagianism. A reaction against pietism began in Dresden in the 18th century.

The state church — Lutheran — in Norway

Only a few decades after Spener’s death, the established church in Norway experienced problems with the spread of pietism.

Like England, they, too, issued a law proscribing small groups meeting outside the church. The government enacted the Conventicle Act of 1741.

Hans Nielsen Hauge (1771 – 1824) was born into a large farming family.  Like Spener, he, too, felt that pietism was necessary in order to transform the state church. Defying the Conventicle Act — and spending time in prison for doing so — he began preaching to Norwegians after Sunday church services.

Although he was a lay preacher, Hauge held revival meetings in Norway before taking his preaching into Denmark. Like many revivalists, he claimed to have had a mystical experience directing his ministry. He also wrote 33 books, which were widely read.

He said that his Haugean movement was in line with Lutheran doctrine. He also believed in Continuationism — active charismatic gifts (prophecy, glossolalia) — as do today’s American Pentecostalists.

After his final release from prison in 1811, he decided to return to farming and to also become an industrialist. He founded a number of factories and mills and donated his wealth to followers and friends. Because he was so influential as a lay minister, his secular success was almost guaranteed. Even today, Norwegians remember his help in making Norway a player in the Industrial Revolution. They also credit him with giving their country its ethical flavour of modesty, honesty and hard work.

Wikipedia states:

  • His defiance toward the religious and secular establishment gave voice to ordinary people, paving much of the way for the liberal and democratic tradition in Norway and indeed the entire Nordic region.
  • There also seems to be a clear link between the Haugean movement and the rise of Labor Union movement in Norway.
  • His theology, while bound in Lutheran doctrine, revitalized the notion of universal religion in Norway. The Norwegian state church credits him today for making religion a personal obligation.
  • His travels created nationwide networks that persist in Norway’s political system generally and among parties in particular.
  • His advocacy for common people became an important force as the industrial revolution unfolded.

Norwegian Lutherans who emigrated to the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries took his influence with them on religious and socio-political levels.  A case in point is the progressive state of Minnesota.

The Protestant churches in Prussia

As Hauge was defying the law in Norway, Prussia’s king, Frederick William III, urged the Lutheran and Reformed (Calvinist) churches in that country to unite. In 1817, this united church body became known as the Prussian Union, or the Evangelical Christian Church.

Protestant history in Prussia is somewhat complex, because it was one of the nations which welcomed Calvinists fleeing the Catholic Counter-Reformation in Europe.  Although Prussia no longer exists as such, the Evangelical Christian Church lives on today in parts of Germany.

Wikipedia explains that this church union came about after Napoleon defeated the Prussian army in the battle of Jena-Auerstedt in the early 19th century. Prussia was obliged to undertake a number of state reforms, among them, the Church:

Under the influence of the centralising movement of absolutism and the Napoleonic Age, after the defeat of Napoléon I in 1815, rather than re-establishing the previous denominational leadership structures, all religious communities were placed under a single consistory in each Prussian province. This differed from the old structure in that the new leadership administered the affairs of all faiths; Catholics, Jews, Lutherans, Mennonites, Moravians, and the Calvinists (Reformed Christians) …

On 27 September 1817, Frederick William announced that on the 300th anniversary of the Reformation Potsdam‘s Reformed court and garrison congregation, led by Court Preacher Rulemann Friedrich Eylert, and the Lutheran garrison congregation, both using the Calvinist Garrison Church would unite into one Evangelical Christian congregation on Reformation Day, 31 October. Frederick William expressed his desire to see the Protestant congregations around Prussia follow this example, and become Union congregations. Whereas, since the Reformation the two denominations in Brandenburg, the Calvinist and Lutheran, had their own ecclesiastical governments under state control through the crown as Supreme Governor, under the new absolutism then in vogue, the Churches were under a civil bureaucratic state supervision through the newly created Prussian Ministry of Religious, Educational and Medical Affairs (German: Preußisches Ministerium der geistlichen, Unterrichts- und Medizinalangelegenheiten, est. in 1817). Karl vom Stein zum Altenstein was appointed as minister. However, because of the unique role of congregations in Protestantism, no congregation was forced by the King’s decree into merger. Thus, in the years that followed, many Lutheran and Reformed congregations did follow the example of Potsdam, and became single merged congregations, while others maintained their former Lutheran or Reformed denomination. When in 1847 Prussia finally received a parliament, some church leadership offices included a seat in the second chamber of non-elected, but appointed members.

As we would expect, not all Lutherans were pleased with this merger. Today’s Lutherans — and Calvinists — would appreciate the difference between the two denominations’ confessions of faith.

Wikipedia explains:

Pietism, with its looser attitude toward confessional theology, had opened the churches to the possibility of uniting. The unification of the two branches of German Protestantism sparked the Schism of the Old Lutherans. Many Lutherans, called Old Lutherans formed free churches or [e]migrated to the United States and Australia where they formed one of the bodies who formed the Lutheran Church of Australia. (Many immigrants to America that agreed with the union movement formed German Evangelical Lutheran and Reformed congregations, later to be gathered as the Evangelical Synod of North America, which is now a part of the United Church of Christ.)

And this is another reason why orthodox Protestants are opposed to pietism. They have seen the historical results of a ‘looser attitude toward confessional theology’: merger, dissatisfaction and confusion.

Pietism, the Enlightenment and atheism

Pietism peaked in the 18th century, although it is by no means extinct today.

However, because its emphasis on the individual appears to have lent it a certain popularity leading towards the examination of man in relation to himself, to others and to the world at large, it helped to enable the Enlightenment.

That said, it renewed religious fervour amongst European Protestants, which some emigrants took to America and Australia.  The laity found a new life within the Church and more of an active voice within established state churches.

Wikipedia explores this further:

Pietism also had a strong influence on contemporary artistic culture in Germany; though unread today, the Pietist Johann Georg Hamann held a strong influence in his day. Pietist belief in the power of individual meditation on the divine – a direct, individual approach to the ultimate spiritual reality of God – was probably partly responsible for the uniquely metaphysical, idealistic nature of German Romantic philosophy.

This has had a paradoxical effect on Christianity and secular politics which is present to this day. Clare Spark’s brilliant blog traces today’s Western multiculturalism back to the German Romantics:

The German Romantics and their descendants have co-opted radical Enlightenment concepts (tolerance, the rejection of innate ideas and fallen flesh as determinants of “human nature,” the cultural biases of the participant-observer) and practices (introspection, scientific materialism, the comparative history and analysis of political and economic institutions). These “enlightened” concepts and practices were then turned against “the lower orders.” For instance, the social psychology of “progressivism” transforms the common-sense perception of objective social conflicts and clashing interests into personal, anti-social symptoms of “xenophobia,” “prejudice” or “scapegoating,” i.e., distorted vision of “the Other.” Insofar as they are conservative Freudians and Jungians, the progressive psychologists attribute negative “stereotypes” to individual weakness and social irresponsibility: Entirely inner conflicts (Oedipal or pre-Oedipal in origin) are projected onto the outer world; this social world could be made harmonious through “integration”; i.e., discreet purges aka correct adjustments or through the emotionally mature recourse to administrative remedies.

Tying in with that is what I see as the nanny state dictating what we can(not) ingest — animal fats, nicotine and alcohol.  Most of today’s health experts and enabler politicians have no real religious faith, but they still have the Pelagian urge for manmade perfection, which pietism actively nurtures.

In fact, there is such a thing as Atheistic Pietism:

a term used by Asgeir Helgason to describe a pietistic (moralistic) approach to life without religion. “We have denied the existence of God but kept the pietistic rules”. Atheistic pietism has been suggested by Helgason,[4] to be one of the characteristics (traits) of the modern day Swedish national spirit. The term is first known to have been used by W.H. Mallock in 1879.

Wikipedia adds:

Economic historian Murray Rothbard sees modern Progressivism as essentially a deistic form of Pietism. [5]

Pietism has a lot to answer for in reviving Pelagianism, particularly the mantra heard continually throughout the West: ‘If only, if only, if only …’ we were healthier, younger, etc.

Whatever the shortcoming, pietism is there to point the finger at things which only God in His grace — not Man — can remedy.

Tomorrow: Pietism in Methodism

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