I love the church, pastors, and church leaders. And I love Christ and his cause. I want to see churches and church leaders flourish!
However, I believe that the Western church largely falters in spiritual and missional vitality. There’s a crisis of piety and a lack of heartfelt devotion to Christ and his cause.
Combined statistics from Evangelical Alliance, Brierley Consultancy and the emergence of GAFCON and its Jerusalem Statement, show this crisis of piety in the UK - especially in the institutional churches.
There's an alarming decline of Bible reading and knowledge, prayer, sound doctrine, holiness, church attendance and membership, and gospel-centered mission.
Over the centuries, God has incited renewal and revival movements to infuse new life and mission into his church.
One of those was the Pietist movement of the 17th-18th centuries. It grew into a revolutionary torrent that influenced the Moravians, the Methodists, the great awakenings, and global evangelicalism, as we know it today. Johann Arndt, Philip Jacob Spener, August Francke, Nicolaus von Zinzendorf, John Wesley, and other Pietists, are great mentors.
The early Pietist movement was a vigorous reaction to lifeless Lutheran orthodoxy and spiritual atrophy. They proposed a heart-felt and living faith, with a practical love for God and neighbor.
They set forth a life of regeneration, with a heart-felt religion, through a life of piety that exhibits the fruits of faith.
Here are five features the Pietists modeled, which can help us overcome our own crisis of piety and carve a path for spiritual renewal in the UK and in the Western church today:
1. Transformational use of Scripture
Pietism was a Bible-centered movement focused on holy living. Spener wrote, “Thought should be given to a more extensive use of the Word of God among us...The more at home the Word of God is among us, the more we shall bring about faith and its fruit.”
Scripture must be a transformational source for spiritual renewal not merely an informational source for Christian knowledge.
2. Pure doctrine
The early Pietists, as dedicated German Lutherans, maintained the grand doctrines of the Protestant Reformation.
But pure doctrine must merge with a holy life - a core theme for Wesley and the Methodists as well as the Puritans. For example, we can use The Book of Common Prayer and the Westminster Confession as sources for faith formation. However, Johann Arnd asked, “How can the truth of pure doctrine be upheld without a holy life?”
3. Continuous conversion
Conversion is not something which happens once. The Pietists concentrated on the inner life of conversion as an ongoing expression of the regenerate life. Spener taught, "The sum of Christianity is repentance, faith, and a new obedience."
What methods do you use to help equip people to exterminate sin in their lives? Lifestyle repentance fused with faith and obedience are spiritual practices that nurture continuous spiritual renewal.
4. Involving everyone
The Pietists developed a unique structure for Christian life and discipleship in community through small groups.
Lay people enjoyed Bible study and prayer gatherings outside of church services - called conventicles or 'colleges of piety'. This became an expression for the priesthood of believers. Anglican John Wesley promoted spiritual renewal through his Methodist classes and bands, drawn from this Pietist structure.
5. Missional mindset
The Pietists were missional. They worked for “God’s glory and neighbor’s good”.
Spener, Francke, von Zinzendorf, and Wesley, proclaimed the Gospel in word and deed and incited spiritual and social transformation. John Wesley saw discipleship as devotion to the Christian vocation to love God and neighbor, fortified by personal and social holiness.
The Pietists propagated the life of salvation - regeneration or new birth with cleansing by the Holy Spirit, and Spirit-ual renewal.
Early Pietist Johann Arndt, concluded, “Everyone now endeavors to be eminent and distinguished in the world, but no one is willing to learn to be pious.”
What about you and me?
Roger Helland, DMin., serves as the district minister of the Baptist General Conference in Alberta, Canada, and is the author of Missional Spirituality, Magnificent Surrender, and The Revived Church and The Devout Life: Plunging the Depths of Spiritual Renewal.