Pietism originated in seventeenth-century Germany as a reform movement within the Protestant Lutheran church. The Lutherans taught believers to look to church doctrine and theology for guidance on living a Christian life, whereas the Pietists believed that a strong personal relationship with God was the foundation of Christian living. Today, the fundamental ideas of Pietism continue to influence the various Protestant churches, even if only indirectly.

Origins of Beliefs

The Pietist movement arose in part as a reaction to the intellectualism of the Lutheran church, which had developed a strong scholastic approach to doctrine. In the seventeenth century, Lutherans emphasized this aspect in order to strengthen their position in debates on doctrine with their opponents, such as the Roman Catholic and Reformed churches. However, a number of Lutherans felt that the Lutheran church didn't offer a guide to worshipping that nourished the individual member in his relationship with God. The writings of John Bunyan, author of "A Pilgrim's Progress," were influential in the formation of Pietism, although the writings of Johann Arndt, a German Lutheran, had most influence on the movement's growth. As a result of these influences, Pietists were notable for their love of devotional literature and mysticism.

Philipp Jakob Spener

One man could be said to be the real founder of Pietism. Philipp Jakob Spener was a Frankfurt pastor during the second half of the seventeenth century. The levels of degenerate behavior in the city, which he also declared was caused by an absence of piety, encouraged him to call pious Christians to meetings called "collegia pietatis," or "assemblies of piety," where attendees read devotional literature and discussed spiritual issues. The people going to these meetings were labelled "Pietists." In an effort to move along the reform of the Lutheran church, Spener published "Pious Desires" in 1675, where he outlined his views on religious practice, and this text forms the basis of Pietist beliefs.

Spener's Proposal

Spener's work advocated a more personal approach to worship in which each member follows daily practices rather than relying on a church service led by a pastor as the primary means of worship. The key characteristics of Pietism are small group Bible studies and prayer groups. Spener also insisted that lay people should be more involved in ministry within the church, such as engaging in Bible study. Spener's maxims for the daily life of a Pietist included personal Bible study and prayer, and an effort to live piously and in a way that showed a commitment to God. Finally, Spener emphasized the importance of what he called "heart-felt faith," which means that every act of worship should come from the heart and lead to spiritual renewal.

Wider Influences

John Wesley's Methodism and the Moravian church are just two examples of the influence Pietist beliefs had on later Protestant denominations. Although these denominations may not follow Pietism to the letter, they incorporate many of its aspects, such as the idea of "saving grace," which is God's mercy and, along with faith, one of the means of salvation. Overall, Pietism places living in the spirit of the Christian teachings above following church doctrine.