It is the 29th of August 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Mailtime! That’s right- a double mailbag week- we have a question on tomorrow’s show about Adoniram Judson. Today we take a question from Jordan in Portland.
“So my church recently joined a new denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church. They have roots in the Lutheran Pietistic movement, specifically in its Swedish variety and I would love to hear more from you about this enigmatic group. How did the Halle movement find its way to Sweden, and then to the U.S.? And how did they (do they?) differ from Muhlenberg and those following after him?”
Well, this is how you get me to answer your question quickly- Pietism is in my top 5 things to talk about- so let me break it down.
Pietism was a movement that came out of the German Lutheran church in the late 1600s. The name is Phillip Jakob Spener and his “Pia Desideria” or “Pious Desires”. He was inspired by Johann Arndt who attempted to draw on Luther’s use of late medieval devotional works for modern Lutheranism. Let me give you my 3 points of Pietism
- It claims that the Lutheran church had overemphasized the cognitive aspects of Christianity and sought to reinvigorate the affective elements of Lutheran Christianity.
- It believed that the Reformation was not a one-time fix, but a model for the church at all times. You might see the phrase “Semper Reformanda” in their literature, this means “always reforming”. Concomitant to this is a de-emphasizing of the Lutheran Confessional writings from the previous century.
- Lastly, they met in conventicles or “churches within the church”. Think of these like small groups that become church plants. But when there is a state church you don’t get to “plant new churches”. You’re breaking the law by not attending the church. These were pious rebels.
Swedish Pietism (and Scandinavian Pietism in general) does not differ very much from German Pietism in content. Because the content in Sweden came from Germany. Trade routes made for a bustling book trade and as the Scandinavian countries had become Lutheran in the 16th century, Pietism as a kind of “update” to the original (my kids would call it a DLC) would excite some.
Also, in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries, Pietism could represent an act of rebellion. In a country with a state church, you protest by joining the group rebelling against the idea of a state church. During the great Swedish Migration of the 19th century, many would come to America and develop Lutheran churches and also Free Covenant churches. You see these words a lot. They are “Free” in that they are not a state church, and they are covenant in so far as they are in “covenant” with others in the church more than with a denominational structure.
Muhlenberg did interact with the Swedish in Delaware and many of them were absorbed into his broad synod. The “Swedishness” was muted in that group whereas the later north and midwestern would keep their “Swedishness”. My wife’s family still does a smorgasbord during Christmas time and two years ago put up a Swedish flag in their house for the celebration. It’s really almost kitsch for them now as the patriarch of the family- Grandpa Ray- was born in Iowa to Swedish parents.
But this gets to the crux of the question- all of our churches have ethnic and theological roots that we decide what to do with. I’m sure there are many in the Evangelical Covenant Church who still enjoy their Lutefisk and Spener but they also might be from Torrance and attending because its close.
Unfortunately, I found that “pietism” has become something of an ill-defined boogeyman amongst some Lutherans. Opponents of Lutheran Pietism sometimes bemoan its scattered global scope- but that’s what you get when you send out missionaries. Opponents also bemoan the lack of uniformity in the movement. Perhaps that’s what happens when you have to adapt theologies to different contexts. Are they Lutheran? Are they Conservative or Progressive? Do they retain any Swedish peculiarities? My answer would be: ask them!
The last word for today comes from Jude:
20 But you, dear friends: build each other up on the foundation of your most holy faith, pray in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep each other in the love of God, wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will give you eternal life. 22 Have mercy on those who doubt.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 29th of August 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose Karaoke go-to is Abba’s Dancing Queen. He is Christoper Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who reminds you it’s not pronounced eye-key-ah but Eee-Keh-Yah. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.