Good Stuff Found on the Web — Pietism Today and in the Eighteenth Century

Thanks to readers who submit items they find on the web that would be of interest to  BJS’ers.  This item came from one such reader. Please click here (or on the sidebar) if you come across such an item and would like to submit it for consideration.

From Dave Berger at Concordia Seminary St. Louis:

I encountered the article by [Robin] Leaver while checking something else. I thought his concluding paragraphs (copied below) have something relevant to say to the LCMS today (mind you, this is almost 20 years ago.)…The link to the entire article is at the bottom.

Contemporary Implications

We do not have to look very far to see that today there is a new spirit of pietism abroad, a pietism that sees the essence of Christianity in the small, informal group, rather than in the total community of faith at worship within a recognized and formal liturgical order. It is a pietism that measures its success by the number of people it touches, rather than by the truth of the message it proclaims. It is a pietism that is preoccupied with “simple hymns” and informal structures of worship. It is a pietism that is impatient with the German Reformation of the sixteenth century, a pietism that asserts that we need new forms and less of the old. It is a new spirit of pietism that looks in many respects like the old pietism, the Pietism in the technical sense which we have considered here.

The leading question, of course, is this: Where did the old pietism lead? By the end of the eighteenth century German Lutheranism had almost disappeared.

Liturgical forms had been eliminated, the highly developed church music of Bach and his contemporaries was no longer heard in the churches, and the content of the Christian faith had been watered down to little more than Unitarianism, with an invertebrate spirituality lacking the backbone of confessional theology. Instead of leading to a period of growth of the church, Pietism precipitated an era of decline of the church, a situation which was not reversed until, around the middle of the nineteenth century, there was a recovery of Lutheran confessional theology, Lutheran liturgical practice, and Lutheran church music, that is, a recovery of those things with which Bach was so intimately concerned.

Bach and Pietism: Similarities Today, by Robin A. Leaver, Concordia
Theological Quarterly, 55:1 (Jan. 1991), pp. 5-22.

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at


Good Stuff Found on the Web — Pietism Today and in the Eighteenth Century — 6 Comments

  1. Dear Norm,

    Thanks for the quote from the Concordia Theological Quarterly. There is tons of great material now available online from the “CTQ” at:

    The online CTQ is probably the single largest free web resource for high quality Lutheran theology, on issues that continue to affect us today. Keep up the great things found!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  2. I wonder if perhaps there is a new pietism steeped in emotions and relationships. A Wisconsin Lutheran church is experiencing a congregational issue over men and women’s roles and authority in Baraboo. Here is a reaction to piece that plays to emotions and relationships as more important than God’s Word.

  3. The LCMS is indeed going through a new Holiness Movement, as was the Pietist Movement in the Lutheran Church after the Thirty Years War.

    Will we disintegrate under it or will a return to Lutheran Liturgics and Music and Theology be the result?

    Given the hierarchical bent of church bureaucracy, coupled with this new holiness movement, I truly wonder.

    For as now, there is, as in the ELCA, a backstop to any real change to a revival in theology, when the Institutional Lie has become entrenched as is the Dispute Resolution Process now in force.

    Unless it is totally repealed, no return will be forthcoming.

  4. Bishop Bo Giertz wrote on this topic — he who successfully reclaimed the authentic liturgical tradition in Sweden (before the liberals managed to destroy the Church of Sweden). Note especially the second paragraph below (but read the first for context):

    “It is important for us that both awakening and liturgy be given their proper and pristine Christian place in the life of the congregation. Awakening is always needed, not only because the church must always be a missionary church and reach out after those that are on the outside, but also because there is always the need for awakening even among the most faithful members of the church. The church has exactly as many sinners as she has members. The old Adam in each one of us is prone to fall asleep, to make the Christian life a dead routine, to use liturgical form to cloak his self-complacency and impenitence. It is not difficult to fashion a form of religion that suits the ego and allows the old Adam within to become sovereign again. One may go regularly to church and Holy Communion. One may cherish beautiful church music and lovely sanctuaries. One may be honestly convinced that one possesses the correct doctrine and loves the pure preaching of the Word. And at the same time one may be thoroughly obsessed by self-love, complacent with one’s self, satisfied with one’s own pious accomplishments and totally indifferent to the troubles and burdens of one’s fellow men, which are so apparent before one’s very eyes. The Holy Spirit always needs to awaken slumbering souls, stir up the dust, push the old Adam against the wall, and blow a new breath of life into the dead bones. Awakening is never superfluous, as long as we are in the flesh.

    “Liturgy is just as needful. There can be no normal church life without liturgy. Sacraments need form, the order of worship must have some definite pattern. It is possible to live for a short time on improvisations and on forms that are constantly changing and being made over. One may use only free prayers and yet create a new ritual for every worship situation. But the possibilities at soon exhausted. One will have to repeat, and with that the making of rituals is in full swing. I circles where people seek to live without any forms new forms are nevertheless constantly take shape. Favorite songs are used again and again with monotonous regularity, certain prayer expressions are constantly repeated, traditions take form and traditional yearly ceremonies are served. But it would not be wrong to say that the new forms that grow up in this way are usually less attractive and more profane than the ancient liturgy. They contain less of God’s Word, they pray and speak without Scriptural direction, they are not so much concerned about expressing the whole content of Scripture, but are satisfied with one thing or another that seems to be especially attractive or popular. The new liturgy that grows in this manner is poorer, less Biblical, and less nourishing to the soul than the discarded ancient order” (from Giertz’s Liturgy and Spiritual Awakening; excerpt from his letter to the Gothenburg diocese upon assuming the bishop’s post [Herdabrev, 1949]).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.