(The Confessional Lutherans for Christ’s Commission is one of the many confessional groups that regularly posts on this website. Like BJS they seek to equip laymen to know and support Confessional Lutheranism. CLCC posts are archived on the Regular Columns page of this website.)
Pietism vs Piety
How can two such closely related words mean such different things? I’ve been thinking lately about what the differences are between pietism and piety. One seems to be a good thing, the other bad. As Christians we are supposed to live pious lives in which we show love and honor to our neighbors. In order to do that, we should obey laws, be polite, respect authority, try not to use offensive language, etc. We want to try to be good members of society, for when we aren’t, it can reflect poorly on Christ and that could be a stumbling block for some people.
Piety can also be shown by using reverence in the Lord’s house, folding our hands for prayer, and by making the sign of the cross at certain times if we want to. Our life hopefully includes private and/or family devotions. It’s also good and right to be in the Word on a regular basis, and attend Divine worship and the Lord’s Supper regularly and often.
Piety looks to Jesus and what He did for us. It looks outside self to see where our hope comes. We are able to better appreciate what has been done for us, and realize how we feel about these things don’t matter! What really matters and what is most important is what Jesus willingly did for us through His suffering, death, and resurrection. For that we give thanks to God!
Pietism, on the other hand, is more focused on what we do. Pietists live their life “doing” much the same sort of things, serving the neighbor, being good citizens, etc, but they look at themselves and say, “I’ve been good today.” They look inward to what they do in order to find out whether they are really saved or not. It’s a very natural thing for all of us to do at times. It’s part of the sinner in us. We have to keep squashing that pietist that dwells in us. We can’t let the devil and our own sinful nature deceive us into thinking it’s about us. It’s not. It’s all about Him. Jesus Christ came and died for us. Because of the love He gave and gives us through His Word and Sacraments, we respond by living pious lives, lives that please Him.
When the burden of thinking what we need to do is transferred to looking to Christ and what He did for us, we know true Christian freedom. Free to be who we are created to be. Free to confess our faith to others without shame. Free to know that Christ dwells in us, and in spite of us being sinners, we by His undeserved love are also saints, made His sons and daughters by the sacrificial death of our Savior on Calvary’s cross and His resurrection from the dead! He can use even the messes we make for His will to be done.
To that I say, “Thanks be to God!”
Hebrews 12:2 “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Kari Anderson, PR CLCC- March 11, 2010