Copyright © 2018 Roger Helland
The Influence of Pietism
Pietism as a late 17-18th century renewal movement was a powerful tributary that unleashed a torrent of church renewal that flowed into an ever-widening missional river. It helped incite and irrigate the great awakenings into what would become evangelicalism.
Perhaps you as a pastor and your church will spark another revival in our day. Pietist spirituality and mission set a vigorous course for British and American revivals and evangelical Christianity particularly through John and Charles Wesley, Charles Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards in the early 18th century. In Church History in Plain Language, Bruce Shelley writes, “In this sense, Pietism was the fountain of all modern revivals. It set the experience of new life in Christ at the center of the Christian message and the Christian ministry. For this reason, it is impossible to think of evangelical Christianity without the imprint of Pietism.” What is a way forward?
A way forward is to first embrace leadership renewal. Church leaders can become like bottlenecks or logjams and restrict or restrain renewal. When leaders long for or experience a deluge of God’s empowering presence first-hand, they can become catalysts for corporate church renewal. Dissatisfied leaders, such as the Pietists, jam the pages of church history as spiritual entrepreneurs who paved the way and paid the price to release the rivers of renewal and revival. Form a church renewal leadership coalition in your context that generates fervent prayer and personal piety, and activates ardent ministry by the Spirit and the word. Over a 12-week period read my book, The Devout Life, and discuss the questions together. Pray for, practice, preach, and plan the devout life for the personal and corporate dimensions of your church, school, district, or conference. Adopt William Carey’s counsel, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”
A way forward is to also embrace conceptual renewal. Years ago, during one of my own seasons of renewal, a very accurate prophetic person announced to me, “Roger, God is re-arranging your dome!” In Signs of the Spirit, Howard Snyder writes:
Renewal may also come conceptually, as God gives new vision for what the church can and should be . . . for its life and mission. It comes primarily in the area of our thoughts, ideas, and images of the church. Each of us has a set of ideas—a certain ‘model’ or ‘paradigm’—of what we feel the church should be. Our models are a combination of our experience and our study of Scripture. Conceptual renewal comes when our models are challenged, and we are forced to rethink what the church is really about.
Books that have shaped my conceptual renewal include: Philipp Spener, Pia Desideria; Johann Arndt, True Christianity; Jonathan Edwards, The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God; Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life; Howard Snyder, The Problem of Wineskins; Donald Bloesch, The Crisis of Piety; John Wimber, Power Evangelism; Also: Roger E. Olson and Christian Collins Winn, Pietism Reclaimed; Daniel Henderson, Old Paths New Power; John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching. Also, the book of Acts.
A way forward is to finally embrace structural renewal. Many leaders focus on improved structures to revitalize their churches. They might read best-selling books on leadership and assume that if they simply craft compelling mission and values statements, build collaborative teams, generate alignment with all departments, and re-design worship services, their church will experience renewal. We need effective organizational leadership and structures, but without the crackling fire of spiritual renewal, we might construct a clean and efficient fireplace, but one that provides little heat or light.
This is not contradictory to what I just discussed, but complementary. We need to engineer the best forms and structures that will serve the spiritual. Again, Howard Snyder writes: “It is the question of the best wineskins for the new wine. Renewal often dies prematurely for lack of effective structures . . . Structural renewal is simply finding the best forms, in our day and age, for living out the new life in Christ.” In my book, I offer many ideas adapted from Pietist structures that can facilitate a transformational use of Scripture, heart-felt private and public prayer, the spiritual priesthood, Christian life in community, and so on. The Pietists used conventicles and the University of Halle. The Methodists used lay preachers, bands, and classes. The Moravians used twenty-four-hour prayer watches and daily Bible readings. What will you use? As a pastor and pietism, may you plunge the depths of spiritual renewal!
The Pietists can teach us more about spiritual renewal in today’s church than what I cover here. For more on the Pietists and my book The Devout Life, see YouTube.
Roger Helland, DMin. serves as district minister of the Baptist General Conference in Alberta, Canada, and teaches as an adjunct instructor at several Bible colleges and seminaries. He is the author of six books. See Amazon Author Central.