By way of commentary I would like to say I have always been interested in this subject but somehow never felt much attracted to it personally, as curious as that sounds. Perhaps its my personality or my upbringing that makes me feel that I'll never be holy enough to exhibit this type of behavior. But then again the cynical side of my being always has been wary of my own motives knowing how strong pride and ego can be. And even more, how strong the old man of legalism can be... which I think is our ultimate struggle... that of trying to justify ourselves before God when it is not necessary.
For our self-righteousness is the very thing which must be submitted to God at the time of our rebirth or conversion. And for which Jesus provided through His sacrifice on the Cross when He took our sins upon Himself and gave to us His atoning work of redemption, justification, and reconciliation in transaction. But even then. Even after conversion. We are prone to trying to please God through the works of our old man, or inner sinful self. Which is unnecessary. Why? Because we stand pleasing to God through His Son Jesus. What God wants from us is to rest in the provisional work of His Son. And in reliance upon His Holy Spirit through whom the works of God must flow through our lives. And not the practice of our own sinful works done in the flesh. For the quality of legalism is a very, very strong force within us. Which would do battle with God every day of our lives. Which we must understand is unpleasing to God. And unnecessary. Which has been made vitally dead through the Cross of Christ and by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within us. Even though the flesh's practice of self-justification (legalism) would seem to live-and-breath through us so unpleasantly day-after-day as we try to live for Jesus in our daily practices and worship. It is but a living, daily struggle that the Spirit of God replaces day-by-day with His grace gifts. His presence. His assurance and direction.
That said, I actually am attracted by the pietistic qualities that I find in believers whom I discover from time to time. What most attracts me in those rare few is that they do not seem to work at this type of behavior. It just is part of their makeup. Its not forced. Its not contrived. It isn't fake. It doesn't seem like a performance that they put on for others. Or a mask that they wear for themselves. Or for show. Or for personal need. It is just part of their makeup. Their behavior. Their personality. Which must somehow be their own personal blessing through the inner grace of the Spirit of God within them. I feel it and it feels strong like a mighty river reaching out to drown me within the mighty embrace of God in His goodness, and love, and peace, and holiness.
But I do not envy it. Nor am I jealous of that behavior and blessing which seems so strong and part of another's being. For I know with assurance that God's inner grace and power is as strong within me as it is within them. However, His grace and peace flows in a different manner through me than through another. And it is this quality that I must recognize and be thankful for. I do not need to grasp it. Nor to seek it (in a sense). Nor pray for more of it (in a sense). It is already mine that God has given to me. It simply flows through me differently. Through mine own personal makeup of who I am. As God has made me before Himself and men. And it is enough. Thanks be to God.
So in a sense, pietism is that quality which inhabits every believer as part-and-parcel of the receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit at the time of spiritual rebirth - the bible calls this rebirth "baptism" or "faith" at times. I do not mention this gift in the sense of a Pentecostal second blessing which I believe to be a contrived doctrine, which I do, and don't, understand of Pentecostalism. But please forgive me for those of you who do follow this teaching. May God's blessings be yours in abundance and in the fullness of His Spirit! But for me, the gift of God of His Holy Spirit comes with rebirth. Not at another time of second blessing. His grace is always full. Always abundant. Because I am always indwelt by God's Spirit at every moment of my life and breath. He came to live within me at the time of my faith in Christ as Lord and Savior. This is God's promise and blessing for each and every believer.
But let us return to the subject at hand... my argument is that because our old man, or inner sinful self of legalism, of self-justification, of self-righteousness, is so very strong, it may force us to seek pietism for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps shame. Guilt. Trauma. Life choices. Whatever these may be. Moreover, when coming across this grand doctrine of pietism we may be urged towards it innocently at first. Perhaps at the direction of a preacher. Or a friend. Or some reading in Scripture. Or through a book. Or from within a pietistic movement. And yet, when starting down this road of behavior and observance, we next meet our old friend "Legalism" telling us to do even more (or less) than what we had first set out to do. It attracts our old man in unnatural ways.
And while making allowance for a wide gulf of pietisticisolations and fleshly denials - I might irreligiously say that perhaps we may apprehend God in our lives by NOT taking these very actions and observations which is so encouraged within our flesh. As example, I see a lot of this behavior during the time of Lent. The denial of foods, activities, disciplines, etc, which are purported to bring us closer to God. And perhaps they do. And perhaps we should deny ourselves and our flesh of those things. But remember that our fleshly man lusts to make us righteous before God through our own efforts, and not through Christ, who gives to us true righteousness. And so, I might suggest an alternative to the shutting "on" and "off" of our daily activities and behaviours in an unnatural manner....
That alternative goes by the term of "moderation." Become moderate in your fleshly appetites. Your body is a gift of God. Praise Him for those unique desires that make you you. If passionate, praise God for this. If driven by your vision of life than seek His help. What may appear as weakness in the flesh may be God's gift of understanding others with those same desires, needs and wants. The days of flailing our flesh, of submitting the body to unnatural experiences must cease in the truths of God's Word. Jesus is man's Justifier. Not ourselves. Not our deprivations. Nor our striven desires to quit the flesh. Use this very same flesh to praise God. It is holy and is what sets us beautifully apart from the angels that look down from heaven upon the grand estate of man.
Seek moderation in your quiet times of reflection before God. And learn in your moderation to find those same quiet times with God in the company of men and in the busyness of life. And in the practices of isolation don't overstay your presence to the destitution of your responsibilities with your family, friends, work mates, and society at large. Be therefore moderate in your isolations and in your walk with God. Do not feed the lusts of the flesh which would make us do unnatural things. Which makes us think that we are pleasing God when perhaps we are only pleasing our own flesh in its self-righteousness. God is our Justifier. Not our own works. Be at peace and know your justification has already come in Christ.
But at the last, this must be your decision. Not mine. Not others. As we each struggle to determine before God how to live as His fleshly servants thankful for our estate and yet resisting the flesh's urges to over-do, or under-do, God's command of rest and peace in Christ's salvation that has come to our souls. Our prayers go with you in the sincerity of your prayers, and your habits of devotion, while urging you not to forget the remembrance of your gifts of ministry to mankind. For Jesus came to seek and to save. To minister and serve. Not in isolation but in the throngs of humanity desiring living waters. Light. And life. Then let your piety walk and talk. Let it breathe and be seen. Follow then Christ's earthly example. Be then true disciples of Jesus.
So let me end where I first began. Pietism for me just doesn't seem to be my calling. Perhaps due to my faith background, which was an admixture of Lutheran and Baptist. Then again, I have felt its compulsions and have learned to wrestle with my flesh while being thankful for who I am. It is God's gift. In the end, I think it better to learn to find the practice of pietism in the daily walk of life as we live with one another. Not in its abstinences but in its quality of reliance on the quiet strength of God. His peace and wisdom. Pietism can be that quality or condition that may flow through us as naturally as when we commune with nature. Or with mankind. At work. Or at play. And in our daily habits.
Pietism is ours because God's Spirit dwells within us. And it is the Person of the Spirit from whom all qualities of holiness, righteous, and careful pietism flows out. It does not need to be forced. Or contrived. Or faked. It is as natural as our very personalities which flow through our characters, minds, hearts, tongues, eyes, ears, mind, hands and feet. If God dwells in you than you are holy. And you may walk pleasing to Him. God's gift to us is Himself. He is pleased with us as we are. Be satisfied with His work and grace in your life. It is a blessing rich and rewarding. His peace is ours. Which peace we must accept. And practice. And be content in. Know then that Christ is our Piety.
January 4, 2011
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The Practice of Piety
January 4, 2012
I was once speaking to an audience of students and professors when a respondent suggested something I had said was “pietistic.” I reacted viscerally to it because for the respondent “pietism” was a slur and evoked such things as individualism, legalism, experientialism, lack of sound theology, and anti-intellectualism, while that respondent thought he was an example of biblical theology and genuine Reformation theology.
It is so easy to stigmatize a group in the way a term is used. Pietism is one of those terms being used by some as a way of calling into question the sufficiency of one’s Christian orientation.
Is Pietism a completion of the Reformation or a distraction? Where do we find Pietism today?
Which all raises the question of what pietism is…
… but before I get there two more ideas. I teach at North Park University, NPU is connected to the Evangelical Covenant Church, the ECC is overtly connected to the Pietism of European Christianity and many draw much of their faith orientation from the likes of Philip Jakob Spener, whose famous 1675 book Pia Desideria (Pious Desires/Wishes) really did set the table for Pietism.
The second point I’d make is this: I didn’t appreciate being called a Pietist in part because my orientation is Anabaptism and not so much Pietism. Do they overlap? Of course, in a number of ways, but they are not the same. Not that I have anything against Pietism and in fact I embrace Pietism (as sketched below), so let me outline how Spener more or less sketched what Pietism was:
1. A commitment to the Word of God. (He proposed more attention to small groups!)
2. Spiritual priesthood: all Christians are priests and not just ministers. (He did not equate this with qualification for public ministries as on Sunday morning.)
3. Knowledge of the Christian faith is not enough; practice of the Christian faith is what matters. Love is the real mark.
4. Learn how to conduct ourselves better in public controversies, and here he was talking about theological debates among clergy and Christians in Germany among the Lutherans. He hoped for greater cooperation among Christians. So there is an ecumenical dimension to Pietism.
5. Converted and pious ministers — a necessity.
6. Teachers are to teach toward genuine conversion.
In its essence, Pietism is a Scripturally-sound convertive piety that seeks to reform the church beyond what the Reformation’s successors offered. In other words, Pietism (like Anabaptism) sought to complete the Reformation, and it is combined features of Lutheranism and Calvinism. It’s beginning point is right here: Genuine conversion as a work of God in the inner person leading to a kind of life that reflects that conversion in all ways.
Roger Olson, in his essay called “Pietism: Myths and Realities” (in The Pietist Impulse in Christianity, ed. by C.T. Collins Winn et al), sees a progression from an inner conversion into a devotional life marked by personal relationship with Christ and a commitment to holiness, prayer, devotional reading of the Bible, the cross as saving and as symbol for the Christian life, and evangelism. It is set over against baptismal regeneration, sacramentalism, creedalism, liturgical worship drained of feeling and emotion and the reduction of evangelism to social work. (See Olson, p. 7.)